OpEd by Arnold W. Drucker
Nassau County Legislator
The Jericho Family Support Center is a laudable concept that deserves our support. The plan involves conversion of the former Hampton Inn on Jericho Turnpike into a transitional housing facility equipped to provide approximately 80 families with case management, childcare, workforce readiness training, health referrals, and 24-7 security.
Currently, there are approximately 50 families living in inhumane squalor at dilapidated motels in Jericho. They are homeless during a global pandemic, at a time when our neighbors have lost their jobs and incomes at a level not seen since the Great Depression.
Despite the clear merits of the plan presented by service provider Community Housing Innovations (CHI) and their nearly 30-year track record of success in this field, Oyster Bay Town officials have nevertheless obstructed this project. They have embarked upon a politically motivated campaign notable for its embrace of fearmongering, misinformation, shameless self-promotion and wasteful lawsuits – all bankrolled by you, the taxpayer.
It is the height of callous, heartless hypocrisy.
Town of Oyster Bay officials who recently sent self-congratulatory, glossy, full-color mailers to Jericho residents to announce that they “fully enforce local zoning laws… to protect your suburban way of life” have no right to take such a disingenuous victory lap. They are the same people who have consistently failed to apply town code and its enforcement mechanisms to compel the owners of these squalid motels to clean up their act. In fact, CHI’s facility is likely to do more to ameliorate any level of perceived blight than Oyster Bay Town officials have in many years.
Eligible families residing in those motels or elsewhere in the County would be relocated to the Jericho Family Support Center, where they would benefit from individualized case management with defined goals in support of their return to independent housing. Children would have access to recreational and enrichment programs, academic assistance, and transportation to Jericho schools or their home districts. Of the 80 families who have interviewed for the Jericho Family Support Center, only 19 children thus far have expressed interest in attending the 3,000-student Jericho School District.
The leap from economic stability to instability is no longer so unimaginable. As compared to July of last year, the Nassau/Suffolk unemployment rate has increased by 10 percent, rendering an additional 135,000 residents without work. Amidst the pandemic, Nassau County has been asked to consider a proposal to lay off 2,900 hard-working men and women. Food insecurity has tripled as rent and mortgage assistance programs have ended. The face of homelessness has changed, and the next family who becomes homeless could look just like mine or yours.
To the individuals choosing to engage in hurtful, divisive rhetoric that, by its design, fuels the stigma that keeps struggling people in the shadows of our society, I pray that no one you love will ever be in need of the services CHI is seeking to provide. Just like you and I, these homeless families have been endowed by their Creator with the basic, inalienable human rights of dignity and respect. Their government has a constitutional and moral obligation to aid them.
Not only is this endeavor the right thing to do, it is the epitome of fiscally responsible governing. By investing in the long-term wellness of at-risk populations, we affirm their humanity and reduce the burden on social service safety nets by empowering these individuals to once again become self-supporting, independent and productive citizens.
I understand why residents are angry about the process, and I have expressed my frustration directly to Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and to CHI. However, I cannot allow my displeasure with a flawed process to prevent me from supporting a proposal that I know will provide potentially life-saving resources for families in need.
In 2016, I made the decision to run for the Nassau County Legislature to succeed the late Judy Jacobs – a woman of the highest integrity and conviction. I ran because I wanted to help people. My desire to help people is the reason I became an attorney, and it is the reason my wife and I made the conscious decision to teach our children these same values.
At a time marked by such great suffering and hardship, I refuse to forsake my humanity for the sake of political expediency.
Arnold W. Drucker, of Plainview, was first elected to the Nassau County Legislature in 2016. He represents the 16th Legislative District in the Nassau County Legislature.