By Aleta LaFrague
This is a story I know to be true.
Recently, I received a distressed phone call from a neighbor: “I need help, please, let me know if there’s anything you can do. I can’t let him live like this.” Her voice was consumed with emotion.
That phone call was from the parent of an adult child suffering from addiction, mental illness and homelessness. Each of these a challenge in their own right; together, they are nearly insurmountable, especially when you don’t have access to resources or allies to fight for you.
A mere three decades into his life, my neighbor’s son takes residence at a shelter, a place occupied by others deep in the grips of addiction. How did he get here? A classic tale of one drink turning to two and two drinks turning into too many, a habit that would repeat itself and then become a lifestyle, coupled with other substances.
This habit has triggered a cascading effect of chronic health issues, making life even more painful for Ethan.
The very night before my neighbor’s phone call, Ethan was bunkered down at a shelter trying to survive the pandemic when something unexpected occurred: a roommate high on methamphetamines attempted to sexually assault him. Having no other option, Ethan quickly fled the shelter, leaving with just the clothes on his back. Moments later he checked himself into Bellevue Hospital for shelter and help.
If you’re the mother of a son, like me, this story should serve as a wake-up call and a call to action. I cannot imagine my own child being alone, scared, with no place to turn.
And that’s when I received an email from a New York City council candidate in district three. The email? An invitation to a public forum on transportation. What?
That was an “a-ha” moment for me. Bike lanes and beautification is important, of course. They aren’t, however, the most pressing issues facing our community.
Businesses are closing. Unemployment has skyrocketed—Broadway alone lost 87,500 jobs according to the state Department of Labor. Residents can’t pay their rent. Children are struggling through the limitations of remote learning, especially those whose parents are without the necessary resources.
My point? We need leadership that’s going to focus on the issues that impact working families most. Hell’s Kitchen, my community, is the epitome of working class New York City; we’re diverse, hardworking, and deeply passionate about our city.
Hell’s Kitchen has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. The city made a policy decision to triage unsheltered residents to empty hotels in our community. This massive congregation of unsheltered New Yorkers has led to a spike in gang violence, as drug dealers and other criminals lord over the hotels like an unoccupied empire. The result has led to a surge in violent crime, particularly gun violence.
In short, our homeless population has become a sitting duck under the city’s current policy, with little to no police presence on site. Our streets are less safe, our neighborhoods less open, and our community is under siege.
Daily calls, emails, and texts from residents in desperate search for help flood my phone. Seniors citizens are being harassed, mugged, and even beaten. Mothers are routinely being sexually harassed from flashers while lewd comments are hurled at their young children.
Local law enforcement needs to return to community policing. It’s a proven model. Our police, NYPD, need to partner with local community groups, like the Manhattan Plaza Tenants Association of which I serve as president, to improve public safety.
A return to community policing will not occur with leadership from city hall. That’s why I’m running for city council for district three. It’s time to lean-in, dig deep, and go hard for our community, especially on the issues that matter most.
I’ve always been taught that if you want to change government, then you need to change who you send to run it.
My name is Aleta Lafrague and I believe as New Yorkers we can do more – now let’s do it together.
Aleta Lafrague is a council candidate in district three, the president of Manhattan Plaza Tenants Association, a mother, and lifelong resident of Hell’s Kitchen.