Poverty in NYC: A Panel Discussion

On Tuesday, Nov. 27, The Yeshiva University College Democrats hosted a panel titled “Poverty in New York City” to discuss both this growing problem sweeping our city and potential solutions. The panel consisted of New York State Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi (D28), David G. Greenfield, CEO of the Met Council, and Dr. Daniel Kimmel, assistant professor of sociology.

(l-r): Daniel Kimmel, David G. Greenfield, Andrew Hevasi

One of the difficulties dealing with poverty, Greenfield said, is that poverty often looks different than people think it looks. “If you want to understand poverty, just walk into a random classroom in New York City with young school kids,” he explained. “The kids don’t even know they’re poor, but you look at them and they all look the same and they’re all dressed the same—but a third of those kids are poor.” He emphasized that looks are often not reflective of the true situation.

Kimmel explained that part of the problem is that “we spend a lot of time thinking about what are the causes of poverty and what causes homelessness, so we think of poverty as the thing that needs to be explained. But I think it makes more sense to approach the problem as what causes wealth.” He continued, “We problematize poverty, and we think of poverty as the thing that needs to be explained but that wealth and affluence—having a cozy sort of lifestyle—is self-explanatory. If you do the right things and put in the work, then everything works out. And it’s those other people who must have done something wrong.”

Hevesi, who chairs the Assembly’s Standing Committee on Social Services, agreed with Kimmel and added that it is the responsibility of the government to deal with poverty. “I see poverty as something you have to address and attack from a public policy perspective.” However, Hevesi said he thinks New York’s current policy to combat poverty is “poorly thought out” and that “we often do things that are more expensive and hurt people.” Hevesi has dedicated a significant part of his career in government to fighting the issues of poverty and homelessness. Since 2016, his legislative focus has been to establish the Home Stability Support (HSS) program, which would provide state-funded rental supplements to New Yorkers across the state facing housing crises. Albany included a $15 million pilot version of the proposal in the most recent state budget, and Hevesi has in recent months been crisscrossing the state to push for full implementation in 2019. This, Hevesi contends, would not only help families in need, but save state taxpayers the higher costs of operating shelters and funding eviction proceedings in housing courts across the state.”

But all three panelists said that while there is a lot of work to do, they believe it can be done. “I believe that private philanthropy plays a huge role in solving the issue of poverty,” said Greenfield. He explained that the nonprofit organization he heads, the Met Council, specifically deals with Jewish poverty and provides 30 of New York City’s food pantries with their monthly supply of food. “Thirty thousand households don’t have enough food to end the week: That’s crazy, and that’s happening right now in New York City.”

Molly Meisels ’20S, one of the organizers, stated that “through our event, I wished to educate our student body on poverty, its causes and its most dire symptoms. By having three vastly diverse perspectives—sociological, nonprofit and political—our students were able to fully grasp what New York is up against.” She added that “I believe our students can utilize [the panelists’] perspectives to rally together to combat the war of poverty that is raging on our streets.”