Activist and photographer John Penley organized a protest/awareness-raising demonstration in front of the Bobst Library on the campus of New York University last Friday. Of special concern to him and those in attendance is the plight of the homeless in New York City, a problem which is being exacerbated by the continuing gentrification of neighborhoods all over Manhattan.
Penley is a resident of the nearby East Village and has been vociferous on his stand that private citizens and corporations should take more responsibility for what their property development schemes do to the less fortunate citizens in the areas under development. In the case of NYU Penley would like to see the university partner with Gregg Singer, the developer and owner of now empty CHARAS/El Bohio community center at 605 East Ninth Street to create a living place for the homeless out of the un-used center.
“It could become some place where students get real life experience working with the inhabitants,” Penley said. “NYU could be a model for what universities around the world can do.”
As a veteran of the Navy, Penley told listeners that about 25 percent of all veterans are homeless today, according to statistics from the Veterans Affairs Bureau.
“The general public should care [about housing] because they might be on the next list of people that get gentrified out of the West and East sides,” Penley said. “I’ve seen hundreds of people that get gentrified out of the neighborhood because they can’t afford to live there.”
Philip Lentz, a spokesman for NYU, responded to Penley’s statements, explaining that the school is already engaged in activities to benefit the less fortunate New Yorkers that live in the area.
“NYU’s students, faculty and staff provide thousands of hours of community service to those in need in New York City, but we leave it to those whose expertise lies in the area of serving the homeless to tend to those urban needs,” Lentz said.
“The NYU Community Fund, which is funded by donations from NYU employees, annually supports numerous organizations that assist the homeless, including, to name a few, the Bowery Residents Committee, the Bowery Mission and University Community Social Services,” he added.
Lentz also said that NYU signed a lease last summer to provide affordable housing in perpetuity at its property located at 505 LaGuardia Place. He also added that the university spends a large amount of its resources to give students and faculty affordable housing, which helps to control housing prices in New York City.
Penley will continue to camp out by the Bobst Library for the rest of the month to increase awareness of the problem among students.
“In the past I have been very derogatory about students in NYU, but in this case I’m reaching out,” Penley said. “I really want to convince the students to become concerned.”