Taking A Look At NYC’s Sheltered Homeless Population

Source: NYC Department of Homeless Services and Human Resources Administration and NYC Stat shelter census reports, via Coalition for the Homeless.

Source: NYC Department of Homeless Services and Human Resources Administration and NYC Stat shelter census reports, via Coalition for the Homeless.

Homelessness in New York City is a problem, despite what Mayor Michael Bloomberg and spokespeople for the Department of Homeless Services might say. In the last two years alone, the number of people sleeping in municipal shelters has increased 27 percent. Since Bloomberg took office in January 2002, the number has increased 61 percent. To better understand the shocking graph floated around by advocacy group Coalition for the Homeless, let’s take a look at significant events impacting homeless numbers in the last 40 years.

January 1974 to December 1989: During the reign of Ed Koch, homelessness became a pervasive problem in the city. “Bums” and “derelicts” could be found most anywhere, but they tended to congregate on “skid row,” which at the time was along the Bowery. The city was not required by mandate to shelter the homeless until 1981, after which Koch established the modern shelter system. (This is when the city began to try to count homeless in their shelters.) Some of the increase during Koch’s terms can be attributed to a rise in mentally ill patients being released to the street after 1960s and 1970s “deinstitutionalization” as well as the  crack epidemic, which began around 1984. As the chart shows, numbers rose during this time, but decreased after the epidemic and when many mentally ill were re-institutionalized in jail and nursing homes.

January 1990 to December 2001: The numbers remained steady during the terms of mayors David Dinkins and Rudy Giuliani. While addicts and mentally ill homeless decreased, sheltered numbers didn’t decrease because income inequality remained and many of the city’s poor were unable to find affordable housing. At the end Giuliani’s administration, the number of sheltered homeless increased dramatically, by 35 percent from January 2000 to January 2002, when Bloomberg took over.

January 2002 to May 2004Before and after Bloomberg was first inaugurated, sheltered homelessness saw huge increases as the result of the recession in the early 2000s (which was partly ignited by the Dot-Com boom).

June 2004: In response to the crisis, Bloomberg unveiled a five-year plan to reduce homelessness by two-thirds, focusing on programs and interventions that “solve homelessness” as opposed to “simply sheltering individuals and families.”

October 2004: The Bloomberg administration announced they would no longer allow homeless families in emergency shelters to apply for Section 8 federal rent vouchers or public housing, instead offering five-year rent subsidies called “Housing Stability Plus.” Section 8 vouchers provide rent subsidies for an unlimited amount of time. HSP, on the other hand, provided working candidates with shrinking rent grants up to $1,300, depending on family size, for up to five years to working candidates.

April 2007: The city announced the end to “Housing Stability Plus,” which was replaced by “Work Advantage.” The new program provided rental-assistance vouchers up to $1,100 a month for two years or less to sheltered homeless people who found jobs.

March 2011: The state cuts funding for Advantage and the city stopped the program entirely without a replacement. Since then, the number of sheltered homeless has increased 34.6 percent.

At Evanston Township High School, 14th “Most Challenging” in Illinois, A Question About Honors Classes


Good ‘ole ETHS. (Source: District 202)

This week, The Washington Post released a list of “America’s Most Challenging High Schools,” ranked by the number of AP and advanced tests divided by the amount of graduating seniors. I was surprised to read that my alma mater, Evanston Township High School, was that 14th toughest in the state.

Evanston, a bustling northern suburb of Chicago, is perhaps best known across the country for Northwestern University, which takes up a big chunk of the city’s most valuable waterfront property next to Lake Michigan. But, as a “townie,” Evanston is distinctive for its awkward mix of poor and rich citizens. Driving into downtown Evanston on Church Street, after whizzing by the high school on the right, you will pass the blocks with some of the highest crime rates; across the street are many of the city’s biggest mansions. While I grew up in the “well-to-do” North Evanston, I understood early on that many of my classmates (or, rather, the people I passed in the hallway) were poorer.  ETHS rarely has snow days because, for some of the students, as one teacher told me, the school is their only means of heat and food, in the form of lunch subsidies. In fact, the Post rankings reported 40.8 percent of students qualify for such subsidies.

I am shocked rankings, not because I didn’t have a rigorous education, but because they present a vary different narrative about the current situation at ETHS’ District 202, which struggles to bridge the Evanstonian gap between the rich, poor, white and black students. When I was in high school, nearly all my classes were “honors” or AP. “Honors” literally meant students with high-test scores; “regular” meant a student was performing at their grade level. Unfortunately, “honors” usually signified all students were white. In my freshman honors humanities class (which included history and English), there were only a handful of minority students.

Around the time I graduated in 2009, 92.8 percent of white 11th graders met or exceeded standards in math, compared to 39.2 percent of black students, according to The Chicago Tribune. District 202 confronted the achievement gap a year after I graduated, deciding in 2010 that the next freshman class will take humanities courses together, no matter a students’ test scores (unless they couldn’t read at their grade level). The argument was that being in a class with the best students would encourage average kids to work harder, with the assumption that minorities were mostly average under-achievers. I know this doesn’t work.

My senior year, I took a beginner’s Spanish class. The previous three years, I had been in Japanese and, after discovering my inaptitude for that language, I switched over to a more useful one. Unfortunately, I was placed in a “mixed” class with both honors and regular students, so I don’t remember a single thing my young, enthusiastic and smart “Senorita” tried to teach me. After arriving in class, it took Senorita between 10 and 15 minutes to take attendance — one-fourth of class time. One of the “regular” students usually acted out, possibly calling her a derogatory name, and they were sent to the office. Senorita would then “teach” us, but she had a hard time controlling side conversations and cell phone use. I would sit in my seat and quietly do AP homework. Sometimes I would listen in on other students’ conversations –I remember one telling another he was dealing drugs after school. When a new chapter began, I would complete the entire packet the first day while Senorita tried to get kids to take out their homework.

Last week, Evanston voted in four spots on the District 202 Board of Education. Voters’ main concern was whether or not the new freshman humanities “earned honors” classes, where students had to earn honors status working with everyone else, would continue. (It was extended to freshman biology in 2011.) As reported by the Evanston RoundTable, here are the opinions of each elected candidate who will continue or begin serving on the board next month:

Incumbent Gretchen Livingston (who voted against the biology extension)

I supported the change in the freshman humanities class because it was unquestionably an improved curriculum. The curriculum added more reading, more books, more writing and more regularized method of assessment. This was the reason for my support. The program is still under evaluation.

Bill Geiger

I agree with the Board’s decision to restructure freshman humanities and biology. It was my view that the planning, the preparation, the implementation, the execution were well thought out…Let’s look at those aspects that are not working as well as we like and figure out why and what to do about it, and in those instances where it’s not working, figure out the next step as well.

Doug Holt

I like the idea of the freshman humanities restructuring, which is to broaden and get a wider group of students and enable them to succeed…I would not have supported the change to biology because we were less than one year underway with the freshman humanities after restructuring. I feel it’s too soon, too fast.

Pat Savage-Williams

…I would have supported the restructuring of the freshman humanities in 2010…I think that earning honors and the assessment process is an opportunity to open accessibility for honors courses to students that would not normally achieve that.

The candidates they defeated — Elena Garcia Ansani, Andy Bezaitis and incumbents Deborah Graham and Casey Miller — all agreed with the 2010 restructuring, too, so voters had little say in its continuation.

My hometown — which my dad jokes is the “People’s Republic of Evanston” — certainly always means well when it makes bold, progressive decisions that would end inequality of some kind. But as critics point out, the choice may only end up hurting students who already achieve high, and they do little to help bridge the achievement gap. More than half minority students got Cs or lower in the new freshman humanities course, according to the blog Evanston Now. In comparison, more than 80 percent of the white students received an A or a B. Of black students, 34.9 percent received a D or F grade in the new class.

I cannot say whether freshman in earned honors humanities and biology classes are having a difficult time, my experience with “mixed” classes has shown the model doesn’t work. I’d bet some students in those classes would agree that ETHS is one of the most challenging schools in the country — though not for the reasons the Post meant.

Why Fake Christmas Trees Oh Tannen-Bum Me Out

My family's beautiful--but unfortunately fake--Christmas tree.

In a week or so, my family will begin the grueling, weekend-long process of putting up our Christmas tree. My dad will bring up the tree from the basement, piece by piece, before assembling it like Lincoln Logs in our living room. Then my mom will stand, squat and sit at its base for hours, trying to bend the wire branches into the perfect shape. When she’s done, the branches, sticking haphazardly in every direction, will resemble the disorder in a real conifer. But in spite of this seemingly natural, evergreen façade, our tree, like millions of others manufactured and sold each year, is anything but “green,” in the environmental sense.

In addition to being non-recyclable, non-biodegradable, and ultimately landfill-bound, most of this country’s fake Christmas trees are imported from distant parts of the globe, generating climate-changing emissions in transit. Despite saving families hundreds of dollars and preserving millions of real trees, fake trees promote environmental unsustainability and should be replaced with real firs or living, potted Christmas trees.

Though real trees are chopped down, they’re still environmentally sustainable. Throughout its lifetime, a single farmed tree absorbs more than a ton of CO2 and each acre of farmed trees produces enough oxygen for 18 people for one day, according to the National Christmas Tree Association. Because growers must ensure a continuing supply of Christmas trees every year, farmers use sustainable farming techniques and plant one to three seedlings for each harvested tree.

The production of artificial trees relies heavily on nonrenewable petroleum. Most of today’s artificial trees are made with metal and polyvinyl chloride, a petroleum-derived plastic, according to Earth911.com, an environmental services company. The U.S. Commerce Department and the tree association report that 80 percent of those oil-based fake trees are shipped worldwide from China on petroleum-powered jets. Though real Christmas trees might be shipped across the country in gas-guzzling trucks, when fake trees are imported from China on planes, the international trip contributes much more to global warming. Because planes cruise in the upper atmosphere, the warming effect of plane emissions is 1.9 times that of carbon dioxide, according to an estimate by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change.

But even if you don’t subscribe to the impending crisis of global warming, real Christmas trees still come on top. The tree association reports there are about 15,000 Christmas tree-growing farms in the U.S., employing over 100,000 people in the industry full or part-time. It might be cheaper to reuse an artificial tree each year, but the economy doesn’t benefit from importing fake Christmas trees from China.

Another picture of our Christmas tree.

While it’s clear they aren’t saving American jobs, artificial tree owners will argue that they’re saving trees. About 33 million real Christmas trees are sold in North America every year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Each is cut down, shipped away, and decorated for a few weeks before being tossed out in the cold. In January, when the trees are left on the street for garbage collection, our street turns into a Christmas graveyard. That’s where fake Christmas trees come in: families believe they can “save” trees by reusing the same artificial one every year.

But you don’t have to have a fake tree to reuse. About 93 percent of real trees sold in America are recycled through more than 4,000 available recycling programs, according to the tree association. Some forms of “treecycling” include recycling the trees into mulch or chips for use in playgrounds, trails and walkways. They can also be used for erosion prevention: In Louisiana, Christmas trees are submerged underground and provide a wave break between marshes and hurricanes. And while the production of fake trees contributes to global warming, real trees are farmed, so cutting them down doesn’t change ecosystems long-term.

As other Christmas decorations become increasingly unsustainable (blow-up snowmen powered by portable generators?), it’s important to remember that replacing plastic trees with their natural counterparts will benefit the environment. To ensure future holidays aren’t tainted by the devastating affects of global warming, families should not buy artificial trees this Christmas.

My family’s artificial tree, decked with an eclectic assortment of ornaments, is one of my earliest and most beloved Christmas memories. In a few years, when our fake tree eventually breaks (it’s only a matter of time), I hope that my family is willing to let our traditions, like nature, evolve.

Experimenting with Food Blogging: Reese’s Pieces and M&M’s Halloween Cookies

The finished product: Reese's Pieces on the left, M&M's on the right.

I’m not going to pretend I have any clue how to properly food blog. (At least not in the way Annie from Annie’sEats can.) But here goes nothing.

It’s really crappy outside (snow? in October?), so, while Mike was doing homework, I decided to blow off some steam and do a little baking. I’ve been baking a lot this semester, mostly because it’s relaxing; Something about mixing together a specific measurement of ingredients soothes my type A personality. My specialty is cookies (I’ve become particularly good at Snickerdoodles) and I use bringing the cookies to my internship at the Observer as an excuse to bake. (Because baking for myself would cause me to explode.)

I wanted to bake something fall-themed for Halloween, so I decided to replace the chocolate chips in the Nestlé Tollhouse chocolate chip cookie recipe with fall-themed M&M’s and Reese’s Pieces.

History break: chocolate chip cookies were invented by a woman who owned the Toll House Inn. She was making chocolate cookies and ran out of regular baker’s chocolate, so she threw in pieces of Nestlé semi-sweet chocolate thinking it would melt in the oven. It didn’t and everyone’s favorite cookie was born.

Back to baking. Here’s the adapted recipe I used, modified from the recipe that’s on the back of Nestlé Toll House chocolate chip packets.


  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • About 2 cups M&M’s (fall themed if you’re a dork like me) or Reese’s Pieces


  • PREHEAT oven to 375° F.
  • COMBINE flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in M&M’s or Reese’s Pieces. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.
  • BAKE for 8 to 11 minutes or until golden brown. When you use an electric stove, I’ve found it usually takes less time to bake through. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

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With Winds of Change, the Smell of Donuts in Long Island City

“Oh, look, it’s Dunkin’ Donuts,” a man said to his companion as they passed the new Dunkin’ Donuts/Baskin-Robbins franchise location on the corner of 49th Avenue and Vernon Boulevard in Long Island City. “No, no,” he said, answering her eye-roll with a laugh, “don’t be depressed.”

Stretching across Vernon Boulevard in Hunters Point, shiny pink and orange pennant strings waved in front of the old-time spire of St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church just two days after the store opened. The strings, along with three white Dunkin’ Donuts/Baskin-Robbins flags drilled into the sidewalk, signaled a changing neighborhood for many Hunters Point, Long Island City, residents.

“I liked all the flavor of all the non-franchise related stores,” said Naz Khan, a four-year Long Island City resident. “It’s right across the street from this beautiful church. It cheapens the neighborhood.”

Like Ms. Khan, Jason Carpenter said he felt the neighborhood’s appeal is in its local stores.

“I love the mom and pop feel of Long Island City and that blue-collar workers are rubbing elbows with local artists,” said Mr. Carpenter, three-and-a-half year resident.

“When you see a Dunkin’ Donuts come in, it doesn’t fit in with that perception.”

Though Mr. Carpenter said he’d go to the store if he wanted a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich, he said he’d also make an effort to support local businesses.

Two-month resident Pat Haggerty also expressed concern over the new store threatening neighborhood businesses.

“It’s kind of weird because, in a way, you’re happy that there’s an extra cup of coffee if you want,” Mr. Haggerty said. “But then you realize the individual spots like Sweetleaf are the ones hurting.”

Despite Mr. Haggerty’s concern, an employee of Sweetleaf, a coffee and espresso bar a block away from Dunkin’ Donuts/Baskin-Robbins, shrugged off the new competition.

Nikkita Flavius-Gottschalk, a month-long employee, said she doesn’t think the franchise will hurt the store’s business.

“Consumers will decide for themselves,” said Ms. Flavius-Gottschalk. “It’s all about an atmosphere.”

While Mr. Haggerty will continue getting his coffee fix at Sweetleaf, 10-year resident Nancy Bicchetti is pleased with the neighborhood gaining a franchise.

“We don’t have anything here, anything at all, so it’s good,” she said, noting the lack of corporate retailers.

Michelle King, a Dunkin’ Brands spokeswoman, said in an email that Long Island City residents, like Ms. Bicchetti it seems, will appreciate the franchise.

“Long Island City has a wide variety of coffee retailers, but people who live and work in the area recognize Dunkin’ Donuts as offering a great cup of coffee served in a friendly environment at a great value,” Ms. King said.

Even though people may enjoy Dunkin’ Donuts, Mr. Carpenter said, the store is only recently in the area to serve certain residents.

“They’re here to serve a particular kind of crowd and that’s the gentrified types,” he said.

For Mr. Carpenter, the new franchise is a sure sign the of neighborhood’s gentrification. After several luxury residential buildings were developed along the East River in Hunters Point, more commuters now live in the area, he said.

“Dunkin’ Donuts isn’t like a five-star restaurant,” Mr. Carpenter said. “But it’s for those commuters who want to grab a cup of Joe before going into the city. And I think that’s who they’re catering to.”

I wrote this piece for a journalism class called “The Beat: New York Neighborhoods.” I was assigned to cover Long Island City, Queens, and this is the first in a series of stories I’ll write about the neighborhood. If you are a resident of LIC with story suggestions or tips for stories for the class, feel free to email me at anna [dot] sanders [at] nyu [dot] edu.

Graduation from Hell: Johns Hopkins University Commencement 2011

The dangerously heat-susceptible site at Homewood Field made the Johns Hopkins University Graduation one of the most unpleasant celebrations.

This morning, from about 8:40 a.m. (EST) to 12 p.m., my family and I attended the Johns Hopkins University Commencement at Homewood Field in 90 degree weather. My excellent sister graduated with honors (in both sociology and psychology =] ) after my mom, dad and I (along with everyone who wasn’t underneath the “special people” tent in the front) suffered through the most unpleasant celebration the university could have planned.

After 40 minutes watching my sister and the other graduates “process” in, my mom and dad encouraged me to leave the stands where we and other spectators were sitting. Homewood Field is a lacrosse field, so naturally the seats were not so much seats as metal benches. Sitting on the benches in today’s weather was like sitting on a hot stove. With a dress and sweat beading down my legs, I followed my parents’ advice and found a shady spot where I could still listen to the speeches. Though some of the speakers were potentially interesting (Fareed Zakaria of TIME magazine and CNN was their big-shot speaker of the day), every speech was lackluster and only made the heat more unpleasant.

Once they had begun suffering through the speeches (and realized how bad the sun was), my mom and dad and everyone else (or at least it seemed that way) attempted to find shade as well. Though I was sitting on a little wall along a road next to a forest, near the medical tent there was a shaded area with lots of fold-out chairs. Both my parents and I relocated to this area halfway through the speeches and decided that this was the most ridiculous event that we had ever attended. The heat, coupled with the direct sunlight, made the JHU 2011 Graduation one of the silliest things ever.

Several graduates’ relatives and friends (some in their 90s), forced to watch the ceremony from the stadium seats in direct sunlight, needed emergency medical attention for what appeared to be dehydration or heat exhaustion. I counted two ambulances, but there were most certainly more.

My dad asked medical assistant if the event was like “this” every year. He–seemingly sighing in indignation–explained that, yes, it was this hot every year.  My dad then asked why they would hold the event in such a site if it was always so hot, when it was dangerous for spectators and graduates. The guy explained that the field was not a good place for the event. Well duh.

For the rest of the ceremony, we continued to wonder:

  • I remembered passing the Baltimore Convention Center on my way to the hotel yesterday. Couldn’t it be held there?
  • My dad believed the tent where the speakers and university president sat was air-conditioned, otherwise they wouldn’t continue with such a hot and dangerous tradition (i.e. having the Commencement at Homewood Field).
  • My mom and dad were both concerned about my sister: all graduates wore black robes and had no hope of dodging the sun.
  • If they were hoping to save some money by holding the event on Homewood Field, wouldn’t removing the added cost of extra emergency medical staff cover rent for a safer event space?

While it’s still unclear why my sister waited four years for this punishment, she graduated safely without passing out. In the following video I attempt to show the heat’s severity (one man is on a cot being treated, but there were others after I shot this video). I just got a tutorial in my summer journalism class about filming “sites” but I’m still not so good with the camera. It’s a bit shaky and blurry, but I think viewers will get the gist of the hell my family (and many others) went through today.

If you listen closely, you can hear two medical staff speaking about the necessity of another ambulance because of the number of potential patients. Seriously JHU President Daniels?

Despite Poor Conditions, No Immediate Plans to Renovate Ladies Restrooms in NYU’s Silver Center

Ladies restroom on the seventh floor in the Silver Center. The six women's restrooms in the Silver Center all had maintenance problems.

On the fifth-floor ladies restroom in New York University’s Silver Center for Arts and Science, Angelica Mitchell looked at a one-inch hole in a stall door—seemingly left behind from a previous lock—her eyebrows arched critically.

“People can see what you’re doing in there,” said Mitchell, a participant in the Upward Bound 1199 program at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, which sometimes meets in Silver Center.  “Like, if someone’s walking by, they might see you…you know, doing your business,” she added.

Though Silver Center’s ladies restrooms are fairly clean, an examination of the building’s six facilities, on floors two to seven, revealed several disturbing maintenance problems. Some of the six bathrooms’ problems—broken soap dispensers, for instance—seemed to be caused by overuse. But the majority of problems, like the holes that concerned Mitchell, seem inherent in the faulty maintenance and design of the Silver Center’s female restrooms altogether. Though several female students interviewed said they believed the bathrooms were in poor condition, the university is only beginning the plan to renovate some of the facilities and they have not specified a completion date.

Toilet paper stuffed in a one-inch hole found on six of 27 stall doors in ladies restrooms in the Silver Center.

“The ones in Silver are actually kind-of shitty,” College of Arts and Science sophomore Meredith DeBlasio said, laughing. She explained the Silver Center’s bathrooms aren’t as nice as those in other university buildings because stalls and other bathroom amenities appear broken. DeBlasio said that this might be because the Silver Center is a CAS-specific building, where other buildings cater to students in all colleges.

The Silver Center includes 10 aboveground floors with classrooms, laboratories and offices for mostly CAS students and faculty, though every student generally uses the building at some point. Located on the corner of Washington Square East and Waverly Place, the building is next to the university’s Waverly and Brown buildings, which students and faculty can reach through the Silver Center, formally called the Main Building. On floors nine and 10, there are no ladies restrooms. However, women have access to the bathrooms in the Waverly Building. On the eighth floor, there’s no bathroom access whatsoever because the floor is laboratory-exclusive. 

In the Silver Center, there are six ladies restrooms with 27 stalls, 17 sinks and 13 soap dispensers. Though hundreds of women use the facilities every day, an examination of the bathroom on May 7 revealed each of the bathrooms had serious maintenance problems. The report summary is at the right (click to enlarge), but the following were the biggest offenses:

  • Six out of 27 stalls had broken locks or the stalls can’t be closed at all
  • Six out of 27 stalls had holes left from earlier locks. The holes are about one inch in diameter and allow those outside the stall to see in. In several cases, women have attempted privacy by stuffing toilet paper through the hole
  • Five out of 27 toilet paper roll dispensers lack a secure dispensing system. The rolls are on bars perpendicular to the stall wall and, if you pull too quickly, they fall off the bar
  • On the second floor, one of the three sinks isn’t working
  • Four out of 17 a total sinks have faulty faucets. When the faucets are turned on, water comes out, but they must be held on to keep the water flowing. However, this makes it difficult to wash one’s hands, as seen in the video below
  • An open window on the fourth floor bathroom leads to the fire escape, where a weathered pack of Newport cigarettes sits
  • In some of the stalls, the doors open inside, so, to exit the stall, one must maneuver oneself over the toilet in a straddle position

The stall on the fourth floor ladies restroom in the Silver Center where this reporter got stuck for three minutes. The lock was loose.

The ladies restrooms in the Silver Center were clean overall, but this reporter’s examination of the facilities determined that the conditions of the bathrooms’ amenities were poor. Many of the mentioned maintenance problems show that using the restroom in the Silver Center is difficult and uncomfortable. As a result of a loose lock in one of the stalls on the fourth floor, this reporter was able to get in the stall, but couldn’t unlock the stall and leave right away. After shaking the door for about three minutes, this reporter loosened the lock enough to open the door.

CAS sophomore Savannah Shipman has also experienced some difficulties exiting the bathroom stalls in the Silver Center.

“On the seventh floor, if you use the handicap stall at the end while someone else is in the stall next door then you might have trouble leaving if they finish first,” she said. Shipman explained that when the door of the other stall is left open, she can’t open the handicap stall door easily because it’s blocked. “It eventually gives and you can get out,” she said.

However, the university may not resolve these problems for some time.

“I haven’t heard of any bathroom renovations—you know of big renovation projects—in the Silver Center,” said Beth Morningstar, director of strategic assessment and communications office of the executive vice president at NYU’s Office of Strategic Assessment, Planning, & Design. However, in a later email Morningstar explained the university is beginning the plan to renovate certain Silver Center bathrooms. “There is not yet a date of expected completion, but I can tell you for sure that it will not be this summer,” she said.

Morningstar said that bathrooms are not only expensive to renovate, but that other facilities, like classrooms and labs, usually get precedence.

“I think they are kept really clean, but I feel that a deferred maintenance program for renovations would make them a little nicer and a little more pleasant to use,” she said. Though she feels the bathrooms could use some work, Morningstar noted that when smaller maintenance problems—such as a stopped up toilet or a plugged sink—are reported, those problems become the top priority.

The ladies restroom on LL1 in Elmer Holmes Bobst Library is in better condition than those in the Silver Center.

Compared to the ladies restroom on LL1 in Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, those in the Silver Center fail to impress. With 15 stalls, four hand dryers, 13 sinks and no obvious maintenance problems, some students believe the Bobst lower level ladies restroom is in better condition.

One female CAS junior said that she preferred the bathrooms in Bobst to those in the Silver Center. “When I last used the second floor bathroom, it seemed in need of repair,” she said. “It looked old, unstable.”

Morningstar also mentioned the condition of the LL1 ladies restroom. “Have you been to the bathrooms in the bottom of the library? They’re all renovated down there,” she said.

CAS sophomore Nadrah Mohammed said she also prefers the library, but that they aren’t as clean as the ones in the Silver Center. “They smell in Bobst,” she said, adding that this might be due to increased library traffic during finals.

However, Mohammed noted that the worst ladies restroom was at 25 W. 4th St.

A previous examination of the female bathroom in the basement level of 25 W. 4th St. showed that the bathroom was in worse condition than the ladies restrooms in the Silver Center. One of the stalls was missing a piece of the stall structure and it couldn’t be closed. Another stall was locked from the inside and seemed out-of-order. In addition, half of the toilets had cracks in them.

CAS senior Erin Kidder lamented the toilets’ poor condition. “The seats are wobbly and low,” she said, adding that it feels like she is using preschool-sized bathrooms. However, Kidder emphasized the entire bathroom at 25 w. 4th St. was in bad shape.

“I think it’s an abysmal excuse for a water closet,” she said.

Though she conditions were bad in Silver Center ladies restrooms, as well as other university facilities like the 25 W. 4th bathroom, DeBlasio said the university might not care. She added that, while it might annoy some to use stalls with holes in them, the university wouldn’t see it as that big of a deal. “I feel like NYU’s priorities are with other stuff right now,” she said.

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NYU 25 W. 4th St. Woman’s Restroom Update

One of the stalls in the basement woman's restroom at NYU's 25 W. 4th St. still couldn't be closed two weeks after I sent in a work request and after I was told they completed a work request (but I'm not sure which one).

So a few weeks ago I began working on my final assignment for Journalistic Inquiry at New York University. I decided to focus on an area rarely breached by anyone because it is so awkward to talk about–the bathroom situation. Because the final assignment isn’t due until Sunday, I won’t spoil what I’m focusing on yet. But for the so-called “sniff” assignment due a week ago, I investigated the state of the basement bathroom at NYU’s 25 W. 4th St.

Before conducting some field research on April 26th, I sent in a Facilities & Construction Management work request form about the bathroom, because I had spoken to a few women who were unsatisfied with it: Many of the people I interviewed explained they believed the bathroom was in extremely poor condition. To be clear: I understand that keeping bathrooms clean is hard, especially for university bathrooms that get a lot of traffic, which is why the piece’s focus was the bathroom’s condition in terms of physical condition.

After I published the blog post, nothing happened. Then last Sunday, F &CM sent me the following email, acknowledging that they had completed my work request. (The work request number doesn’t match the number of the original request I sent, but while I was interviewing Beth Morningstar for the article, she said she was sending in a work request form for me, so I can only assume that the one she sent matches the completed form below.)

Greetings:      ANNA SANDERS

We are pleased to inform you that your work request number 11-084145 has been completed.


If you have any questions regarding the work that was performed,
please reference the work request number 11-084145 when contacting us:

Telephone: (212) 998-1001
Fax:       (212) 995-4671
Email:     fcm.helpdesk@nyu.edu

The work request form above only addresses the issue of the stalls being wobbly, but it doesn’t include the issue of stalls not closing, which in the first request I sent, not the one sent by Morningstar, explained “AND SOMETIMES THE DOORS DONT CLOSE”. However, this might be because they were addressing a work request form sent by Morningstar.

One of the eight stalls in the basement woman's restroom at NYU's 25 W. 4th St. was locked from the inside. I took this picture by holding my phone above the door.

Yesterday, May 3, I visited the bathroom again from 10:30-11 a.m. Though I didn’t have a whole lot of time to investigate the bathroom’s conditions, two of eight stalls were unusable–both for the same reasons highlighted in the last piece. One of the stalls was, again, locked from the inside. Another stall’s door still couldn’t be locked let alone closed.

I understand that a university failing to fix two stalls in  a single bathroom isn’t the end of the world. I also understand that it takes a while for a work request to go through a large institution’s bureaucratic nonsense. But I don’t understand how F&CM can send someone to check the bathroom and then–even if that person were only checking the stalls’ wobbly-ness–how that person can see that two of the eight stalls are unusable and not fix it. And then to have the nerve to send me a note explaining it’s okay, the stalls aren’t wobbly–that’s unacceptable.

As a person who pays a ton of tuition to this university, I would really appreciate it if the university would be honest about the state of its facilities. I also suspect that the bathroom could be fixed with only a fraction of my personal tuition for one semester. I don’t know how to say this any clearer, but “this reporter” is disappointed with NYU.

NYU’s 25 W. 4th Basement Woman’s Restroom Won’t Be Renovated Until 2013

One of the wobbly stalls in the basement woman's restroom at NYU's 25 W. 4th St. Many female students feel the restroom is in need of renovation.

The ladies restroom in the basement of New York University’s building at 25 W. 4th Street has eight stalls, but there’s still a line to get in at different times: that’s because one of them has a broken door, another’s door can’t be opened and two more are so wobbly that women would rather wait for an adequate facility. And it seems like they’ll have to wait two more years for true relief — that’s when renovations are scheduled.

Tisch School of the Arts senior Allie Pfeffer said her experience in that bathroom has been terrible.

“This is the worst woman’s restroom I’ve seen at NYU,” she said. Pfeffer added that many of the stalls aren’t functioning because the doors don’t close completely. “There are so few stalls that are actually usable that the line that forms is very long and very slow,” she said.

College of Arts and Science junior Brittany Holzherr said she believes the bathroom is “disgusting” and in need of immediate repair. She added that she thought the facility was in such bad condition because it doesn’t get a lot of student traffic.

“The best restrooms are those in the much larger buildings such as Kimmel,” Holzherr said.

Upon hearing a few students’ concerns about the bathroom’s condition, this reporter sent in a Facilities & Construction Management work request form to see if the university’s facilities management felt the same:

Client Services Center

Work Order Number:            11-083482

Building:            25-W 4TH ST


Requestor Name:            Anna Sanders

Request Date:            15-APR-11

One of the eight stalls at 25 W. 4th St. is broken. It cannot be securely locked or even closed.

A representative from Client Services followed up to say that someone from F&CM would check out the conditions. Ten days after a work request was sent in, an examination of the facility revealed the following:

  • Two out of eight stalls are wobbly
  • Four out of eight toilets don’t seem secured to the wall and have cracks in the caulk and porcelain
  • Two out of eight stall doors don’t close completely
  • Three out of eight stalls have half-inch gaps between the stall structure and the door. It is easy to look through the gap and see everything that’s happening in the stall
  • All of the five sinks work, but they are all also dirty
  • The floor is slightly dirty but it fair condition
  • One of the stalls (pictured to the right) is missing a piece of the stall structure (a reporter couldn’t close the door because there is a five-inch gap) and is, for all intents and purposes, broken
  • One stall wouldn’t open at all and appeared locked from inside. Upon investigation through the small gap, there appeared to a mysterious brown color on the toilet. It’s unknown how long that stall has been out-of-order

On April 25 from 4:30 to 5 p.m. when these observations were made, two of the bathrooms eight stalls weren’t functioning and the majority were in need of some repair, either with the stall structure or the toilets.

During this reporter’s investigation, one student walked in and peered in the broken stall before determining it couldn’t be used. “This stall isn’t actually a stall,” she said. “That’s…interesting,” she added, swinging the door 180 degrees.

One of the toilets with visible cracks in the caulk and porcelain. Toilets at the bathroom in the basement at 25 W. 4th St. are designed to be securely mounted to the wall.

Though the survey demonstrated the bathroom is in disastrous condiditon, it “probably” won’t receive a complete renovation until 2013, according to Beth Morningstar, director of strategic assessment and communications office of the executive vice president at NYU’s Office of Strategic Assessment, Planning, & Design.

“It hasn’t been repaired since 2010, so we may want to send the plumbing shop in there,” Morningstar said. “Usually summer times are a good time to go around and get a lot of the stuff done.”

Morningstar explained that the bathroom’s wobbly stalls are inherent in the design of all NYU restrooms, explaining that the stalls in this particular restroom are wall-mounted and attached to a wall carrier instead of to the floor by design.

Nevertheless, the cracks in the caulk and porcelain in several of the bathroom’s toilets suggest they are not properly secured to the wall.

CAS senior Erin Kidder lamented the toilets’ poor condition. “The seats are wobbly and low,” she said, adding that it feels like she is using preschool-sized bathrooms. However, Kidder emphasized the entire bathroom was in bad shape.

“I think it’s an abysmal excuse for a water closet,” she said.

Despite Decrease, Larceny Still a Concern in Times Square and 14th Precinct

Though crime in the 14th Precinct has decreased, several New Yorkers who work in Times Square still consider grand larceny a problem.

Stationed at the intersection at W. 44th Street and 7th Avenue in Times Square, Natalie Rose, 23, said she witnesses crimes everyday.

“I see people go inside Sephora and try to bust stuff,” she said, holding a Subway sandwich shop sign designed to attract tourists.

Rose is not alone in her observation. Several New Yorkers working in the southern section of Times Square said they believe criminals take advantage of the area’s crowds and large tourist presence.

Though Melisa Bassett, 26, works as a promoter in many parts of the city, she said she is in Times Square a lot and believes theft is probably the most common crime in the area. “I see a lot of people take advantage of tourists,” she said. “They will sell CDs and say they’re going to give change to tourists but then they don’t,” Bassett explained.

In addition to direct theft as witnessed by Rose, the CD cons Bassett described may be considered acts of larceny, by withholding the agreed-upon change as a form of property.  In New York State, petit larceny is the theft of any property where grand larceny is a more severe case of property theft. A person is guilty of the minimum grand larceny in the fourth degree when the property stolen is above $1,000 or consists of a debit or credit card. The designation also applies to theft of certain sensitive items, regardless of value, such as chemicals or religious articles. While grand larceny can vary from a class E felony with a maximum sentence of 1.5 years to a class B felony with a maximum sentence of nine years, petit larceny is a class A misdemeanor.

Though crime in Times Square has decreased in the last two decades, the area still sees a high number of complaints of larceny compared to neighboring districts. The south section of Times Square where Rose and Bassett work, between 8th and 6th Avenues and from W. 43rd to W. 45th Streets, is part of the New York City Police Department’s Midtown Precinct South, or 14th Precinct, which largely encompasses commercial and entertainment buildings.

From 1990 to 2010, the number of reported complaints of grand larceny in the precinct decreased by 82.5 percent, from 13,326 to 2,327. As of April 3, there have only been 527 reported complaints of grand larceny, down by 43 since the same time last year, and 1,185 reported complaints of petit larceny, down by 47 since last year.  While larceny in the 14th Precinct has been decreasing, other areas still see fewer complaints. Though the 18th Precinct includes the northern section of Times Square above W. 45th Street, there were only 1,806 reported cases of grand larceny in 2010, and a total of both 861 cases of petit and grand larceny as of April 3. Club promoter J.R. Perez, 26, said he believed the 14th Precinct might see more complaints of larceny because of what he called “tourist crime” resulting from the high number of tourists in the area.

As exhibited by the 12 officers, including the group above, on 7th Avenue between W. 44th and 43rd Streets, there are many cops present in Times Square.

Even on a rainy afternoon in the middle of the week, hundreds of pedestrians—many of which are tourists—swarm the streets beneath the area’s bright, flashing lights. On a Wednesday last winter, a count by Philip Habib & Associates recorded 619,768 pedestrians in certain areas of Times Square within the 14th Precinct from 8:30-1 a.m.

“There’s a lot of people getting ripped off,” Perez said. Though he said there’s a lot of property theft, Perez added that he sees fewer crimes of a more serious nature.

Since 1990, the number of complaints of felony assault and rape in the precinct decreased by 83.7 percent and 58.5 percent, respectively. This reporter made several inquiries to police in the area to explain the overall decrease in crime and high prevalence of larceny complaints, but officers said they are barred from speaking to press in uniform.

However, Perez said he believes the decrease is probably due to New York’s finest.

The high number of officers between W. 44th and 43rd Streets on 7th Avenue demonstrated his theory. In addition to 12 officers, there were seven police cars and one police van on one block in Times Square.

“There’s a cop like every five seconds,” Perez said, laughing. “That usually turns people off.”