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Queens councilman recounts the time his family was in a shelter, in aim to humanize the plight of the homeless

Jimmy Van Bramer (R) with his father and sister

Jimmy Van Bramer (R) with his father and sister

Aug. 25, 2014 By Christian Murray

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who represents Astoria/LIC and Sunnyside, wrote an op-ed that was published in the Daily News Sunday that detailed how he and his family were homeless when he was a young boy.

Van Bramer said his decision to write the op-ed was inspired by a series of meetings that he had recently held with city officials concerning the number of homeless families in New York City—and some of the rancor concerning the opening of some Queens shelters.

The meetings came in the wake of the outcry from many Queens residents about the opening of an emergency shelter at the former Pan Am Hotel on Queens Blvd in Elmhurst, as well as the opening of the Westway Motel in East Elmhurst.

“Some of the ugly things that people said in front of these [homeless] children have been horrible,” Van Bramer said, referring to the Pan Am protests. “These are innocent children who are in shelters through no fault of their own.”

Van Bramer also said that he wrote the article to expose some of the myths and stereotypes that are out there concerning homeless people.

“The myth is that these people don’t want to work,” he said. However, “that’s false…since so many homeless people do work and just don’t have enough money to get by.”

Furthermore, these people don’t want to be in homeless shelters long term—much like his parents didn’t want to be either.

Van Bramer said his family’s situation was emblematic of many homeless people’s story today. His family stayed with financially-strapped uncles and aunts– before they had no choice but to go to a shelter.

“My family’s journey into and out of homelessness began like so many others then and now,” Van Bramer wrote in the Daily News. “Dad was drinking heavily, money got tight, some poor decisions were made, and a family teetered on the brink of despair as a result.”

Van Bramer’s father, who worked as a journeyman pressman, eventually found accommodation in a small tenement after being in a shelter for six weeks.

“These are not horrible people out to destroy neighborhoods…these are folks who are down on their luck whose children are in need,” Van Bramer said.

Van Bramer said he was hopeful that people might be more empathetic to the plight of the homeless after learning how a middle class councilman was once homeless.

For the Van Bramer op-ed click here:

By Jimmy Van Bramer

A young father enters a colorless room holding his infant son while his wife sits nearby trying to believe this isn’t happening. Their older kids, not much older than the infant, stay close. They are all tired and they are all homeless. The father tells the intake worker that they had been staying with friends but had to leave and now have nowhere else to turn. He asks for help because they have no money and his baby son just needs a bottle of milk.

The father is 25, it is 1970 in New York City, and I am that baby boy.

For the rest, click here.

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