Op-ed: Housing is a human right, which is why we support North Riverdale shelter

Alessandra Biaggi & Jamaal Bowman

November 03, 2021

Originally published in The Riverdale Press on November 03, 2021.

Riverdale has always been a community rooted in love, acceptance, and inclusivity. Our neighborhood’s devotion to lending a helping hand and advocating for those often overlooked is one of the reasons why we are so proud to represent Riverdale.

Our community’s true values are exactly why we support the newly proposed homeless shelter at 6661 Broadway. Ending homelessness will take all of us, and the Riverdale community can — and should — be a part of the solution.

Homelessness is a growing epidemic faced by our city, state and nation, and we must use all of the resources at our disposal to expand access to affordable housing. The solution begins with providing temporary shelter and pathways to help individuals experiencing homelessness to  live independently and self-sufficiently.

The proposed program shelter in Riverdale will do just that. This shelter will not decrease the quality of life for Riverdale’s residents, but rather enrich our neighborhood and help us be part of the solution to end homelessness. Shelter residents will be provided with resources such as counseling, housing placement assistance, and life skills workshops in order to help them find permanent housing.

We hear the concerns of those in opposition to the shelter, but want to emphasize that many of these concerns — such as the belief that the presence of a homeless shelter will bring crime, drugs, or violence to Riverdale — are rooted in preconceived beliefs and biases about homeless individuals, rather than facts.

There is no substantive data to support the notion that shelters increase crime in surrounding neighborhoods. An individual experiencing homelessness is no more likely to be a violent criminal or sex offender than a housed person. In fact homeless individuals without shelter are more likely to be victims of crime, or fall into drug use and addiction. We make this clarification only to ensure our conversation is rooted in truth, because ultimately, every New Yorker — regardless of their criminal or drug history — is deserving of a home.

By grouping all homeless individuals as criminals or offenders, we are only perpetuating stereotypes and biases that have plagued the homeless population for years — generalizations that are often rooted in racist and classist ideas.

Instead of giving in to our prejudices and preconceived notions, we must stand for justice and do the right thing with open arms. Riverdale is a vibrant and affluent community with so much to offer in support to those who are facing their darkest and greatest moment of need.

Ending homelessness will take all of us, and we encourage all of you to stand with us in this fight. Housing is a human right, and we must fight until everyone has access to the stable, safe housing that they deserve.

Jamaal Bowman is the U.S. Representative for New York's 16th Congressional District, covering parts of the Northern Bronx and Westchester County.  Alessandra Biaggi is the state senator representing the 34th district, which includes Riverdale, Spuyten Duyvil and parts of Kingsbridge.