Once-Homeless NYC Teen Gets Accepted Into A Dozen Colleges

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – A Bronx girl who overcame homelessness to be accepted to a dozen colleges, but now a new challenge lies ahead.

One college acceptance is cause for celebration, but now Brianna Watts has 12 reasons to celebrate, reports CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff.

“Shocking, I guess you could say shocking,” she says of her success.

The 18-year-old Bronx teen got into every college of the dozen she applied to, beating the odds in not only in college admissions but in life.

She was brought up at times homeless by a then-crack-addicted mother who spent time in prison

Brianna stayed positive.

“I know there people worse than me who didn’t have a place to sleep or food to eat, and I still had that even though I was in a shelter,” she said.

“I always encouraged them to be better than me,” said mother Bridgette Gibbs.

Hard work paid off as the Bronxwood Preparatory Academy Student who earned honor roll every semester.

“I tried not to let my circumstance define me, who I was as a person,” said Brianna. “I went from getting 75s and 65s my ninth grade year to getting 90s my 10th grade year.”

After all that hard work, the hardest part ahead: paying for college. Even state schools.

“Room and board would be between $14,000 and $18,000,” she said.

After doing all the right things, she won’t stop now.

“I’m going to college no matter what, I don’t care how much I have to borrow,” she said.

Her past turned out not to be any deterrent for her.

“It turned out to be great because look at who I am now,” she said.

“If you can help the next person climb up because you climbed up, and be resilient,” said mom Gibbs.

That resilience is thanks in part to supportive housing run by WIN – Women In Need – an organization run by former city council speaker Christine Quinn.

“I think the fact that college isn’t accessible for all, that it’s not out-and-out free for someone like Brianna, is a terrible condemnation of education in our country,” said Quinn. “But we can’t be held back by that, we are just going to overcome it.”

As Brianna considers a dozen college choices, she’s inspired by her own mother who went back to school herself.

Harder for Homeless to Enter N.Y.C. Shelters, Report Finds

More homeless families are being denied permanent shelter in New York City, and many are being forced to reapply multiple times before the city finds them eligible to enter the system — two trends that burden already fragile families, according to a new report by the Coalition for the Homeless.

State eligibility requirements have been tightened, a change made in November at the request of the city, which is grappling with a strained shelter system that is struggling trying to meet demands. Though the city recently announced a plan to open 90 new shelters over the next five years, about 18,500 homeless people are temporarily staying in hotels and so-called cluster apartments in the meantime.

In its report, released on Tuesday, the Coalition gave the state and the city near-failing grades on its eligibility requirements, and found that the city could reduce homelessness more quickly than it has promised. Mayor Bill de Blasio has vowed to reduce the number of people living in shelters by 2,500 people over five years, a decrease of 4 percent from the current 60,000 people in the primary system.

According to the report, the city could achieve a reduction of about 25 percent in all of the city’s shelter systems by 2020 if the city and state adopted policies to open more affordable housing and rental subsidies for homeless people. “We don’t want the expectations to be that we can’t reduce homelessness in a meaningful way,” said Giselle Routhier, the policy director at the Coalition.

The application process became more onerous after the city petitioned the state to give them more leeway to deny shelter. Homeless people are required once again to provide documentation from multiple sources and are subjected to city investigators. Children often miss school during the application process.

The Coalition found that 42 percent of applying families were approved for shelter in December, a drop from a high of 50 percent found eligible in October. The percentage of families required to apply multiple times also rose to 45 percent from 37 percent from July to December.

KayKay Knight, 32, who has a disk disease, applied for shelter last year when the stairs in her uncle’s Brooklyn home became too difficult for her to manage, she said. Ms. Knight, who has a five-year-old daughter, said she was denied permanent shelter roughly 12 times.

She was in provisional shelter while the city investigated her case, and her uncle said he had felt harassed, creating more animosity within her family. “He didn’t want me there,” she said. “Just imagine how many times they went to his home.”

With help from the Legal Aid Society, Ms. Knight qualified in November, moving to a shelter where she can easily access a bathroom.

The Coalition still says there is more that needs to be done. The report gave the city poor rankings for failing to adequately meet the needs of mentally ill and disabled homeless people, and said it was unimpressed with its “code blue” policy of broadening access to shelters when the temperature falls to 32 degrees between 4 p.m. and 8 a.m.

NYC’s Catholic Church officially opens low-income housing for the homeless in the Bronx, built on church land, overseen by Catholic Charities

By Kerry Burke  and Toni Reinhold

| New York Daily News |

Apr 08, 2019 | 7:55 PM

Archbishop of New York Timothy Cardinal Dolan presides over the official opening of St. Augustine Terrace in the Bronx, a new development that will provide 112 units of affordable housing for low-income families, on April 8, 2019. (Kendall Rodriguez / for New York Daily News)

He worked two jobs and still couldn’t afford a New York City apartment, so for six years James Jennings lived in his car.

Not anymore. Jennings now resides at St. Augustine Terrace at Fulton Ave. and 167th St. in the Bronx, a 112-unit apartment house for low-income families developed by the Catholic Church on property it owns.

On Monday, Timothy Cardinal Dolan, the Archbishop of New York, and the city’s first lady Chirlane McCray, officially opened the building where a church once stood.

St. Augustine Terrace, which opened to tenants in November, is part of a plan by Catholic Homes New York, the affordable housing unit of Catholic Charities and the Archdiocese of New York, to develop 2,000 affordable units over the next 10 years. The Archdiocese is reviewing other Church properties with an eye on affordable housing.

Tenants at St. Augustine need to earn 60% or less of the area’s median income (AMI), said Catholic Charities spokeswoman Maya Bronstein. “Today, the Catholic Church of New York City is taking the lead in ensuring that low-income New Yorkers have access to well-built, well-maintained housing, along with the services to help those with the greatest needs,” said Monsignor Kevin Sullivan, head of Catholic Charities of New York, which oversees 2,336 affordable housing units in the city and Yonkers. He said it will grow to more than 4,000 by 2029.

St. Augustine Terrace in the Bronx, a new development that will provide 112 units of affordable housing for low-income families, April 8, 2019. (Kendall Rodriguez / for New York Daily News)

“This is so much more than a building for Bronx families who struggle to make ends meet,” McCray said. “It provides the peace of mind.”

St. Augustine Terrace was financed under the Department of Housing Preservation & Development’s extremely low and low-income affordability program. Thirty-five units are ear-marked for adults with mental illness. It is also certified energy and environmentally friendly, which can lead to cost savings.

“It’s the first of many coming,” Cardinal Dolan said, pronouncing the building “stunning.” Design and paperwork have begun for five other developments in the Bronx and one in Manhattan.

Referencing a season of penitence culminating with Easter on April 21, Dolan said, “We are in Lent. It’s about fasting, but this is the fasting I want. Housing the oppressed and the homeless.”

Jennings, 53, who has a studio in the new building, says he has the immune system disease lupus and other health issues. Nonetheless, he says he is “inspired every day.”

“I was homeless for six years,” he explained. “I worked two jobs and lived in my 4x4. I’m no longer off the grid. Now, my life really matters. The idea is to get my feet planted and help people through my own experience,” said Jennings, who wants to counsel the homeless.

“We will continue hosting of affordable housing,” Dolan said. “Next week we will observe the gruesome death of a homeless person named Jesus and his resurrection from a donated tomb.”

This 8-year-old homeless refugee is a New York chess champion

In one year, Tanitoluwa Adewumi went from not knowing anything about chess to becoming New York's newest champion.

Adewumi, 8, started learning the game last year at his school, P.S. 116 in New York City. Adewumi and his family came to the U.S. from Nigeria two years ago, seeking religious asylum; they are Christians who fled to escape the terror group Boko Haram. Adewumi's coach, Shawn Martinez, said the third-grader loves to play and is always practicing. "He smiled every time he did anything on the board or learned something new," he told NBC New York. "I could just tell this game was for him."

Over the weekend, Adewumi kept his undefeated streak alive, winning his age group in the New York State Primary Chess Tournament. Adewumi will soon have a place to display his huge trophy: The family has been living in a homeless shelter, but a GoFundMe started for them this week has raised more than $160,000, and they will soon move into their own home.

Adewumi is gearing up for the national championship in May, and is inching closer to his goal. "I want to be the youngest grandmaster in the world," he said.

Catherine Garcia

More than 10,000 kids who started kindergarten in 2012 were homeless at some point before their fifth grade year, an NYU study found.

By Noah Manskar, Patch Staff | Feb 28, 2019 11:07 am ET | Updated Feb 28, 2019 11:11 am ET

NEW YORK — More than 81,000 New York City kids started kindergarten in the fall of 2012. By the time they got to fifth grade, one in eight had been homeless, many forced to stay with family or friends or in a shelter.

That's according to a New York University study released Wednesday that says the city's student homelessness problem is most rampant among the city's youngest kids.

The Research Alliance for New York City Schools at NYU's Steinhardt School tracked the 81,669 students who entered kindergarten in the fall of 2012 for five years. Of the 10,312 students — or more than 12 percent — who experienced homelessness before their fifth-grade year, more than a quarter were homeless for all five years and nearly 70 percent were homeless for more than a year, the study found.

"One thing that is a little different about this work is that we were able to follow students over multiple years," Zitsi Mirakhur, one author of the report, said in a statement. "This paints a more complete picture of who experiences homelessness—and in what ways."

More than half the homeless students "doubled up," meaning they lived with family or someone else, while another 30 percent stayed in shelters and close to 10 percent "experienced multiple forms of homelessness," the report says.

The study also revealed stark racial disparities in student homelessness. Nearly 89 percent of the tracked homeless students were black or Latino, the report says — as were almost 95 percent of those who lived in shelters for at least three years.

The latter finding "underscores the disproportionate impact of extreme poverty on NYC's Black and Latino students," Kathryn Hill, the report's other author, said in a statement.

That group of kids is "perhaps the neediest" and also suffered the most stark academic consequences of homelessness, according to the study. Fewer than 20 percent got proficient scores on the state English and math tests, and more than 80 percent were chronically absent, which means they missed roughly a month of school, researchers found.

The kids who experienced homelessness also were not evenly distributed throughout the city, the study found. The western Bronx, upper Manhattan and northern Brooklyn were home to the schools with the highest proportions of them, the report says. And more than 10 percent started kindergarten in The Bronx's District 10 alone, researchers found.

The proportion of young kids experiencing homelessness outpaces the rate for the city's entire school system. Some 114,659 students — more than one in 10 — were identified as homeless in the 2017-18 school year, according to data published in October.

The city has ramped up spending on services for homeless students in recent years, and the Department of Education has worked with the Department of Homeless Services to place families in shelters closer to their youngest child's school.

Schools also often work with community-based organizations that help support students' needs, according to the NYU study. But those partnerships take a variety of forms, and there's a need for better evidence about how they help homeless students, the report says.

"Given that so many NYC students experience homelessness during these years, and that schools often engage in partnerships in an attempt to meet these students' needs, it is important to learn more about what makes these collaborations effective," Research Alliance deputy director Adriana Villavicencio said in a statement.

Lisa Cotoggio celebrates Valentines Day by baking heart-shaped cheesecake sandwiches for people who are homeless


Julia Rose Herman

2/12/19 6:00am

A mystery crime writer turned baker is challenging everyone to help people who are homeless this Valentines Day. Lisa Cotoggio is the founder of a small business she calls “Grandma’s Cheesecake Sandwiches.”

This Valentines day she will be handing out over 150 heart-shaped cheesecake sandwiches to the homeless in Manhattan and Long Island. Cotoggio's desire to help people who are homeless is personal. She is even finishing up a book that is inspired by an encounter she had with a woman who is homeless. She wants to make others feel special this Valentines Day and hopes her efforts will bring more awareness to the crisis of homelessness.

NYC Man's 'Super Soul Party' Helps Homeless Enjoy Big Game

Meir Kay's chance encounter with a homeless man sparked an idea that's turned into an annual event.

By Noah Manskar, Patch Staff | Feb 1, 2019 2:26 pm ET

NEW YORK — Meir Kay spotted a homeless man on the street about two years ago who was holding an unusual sign. He didn't need food or drink, it said — he felt invisible and just wanted someone to talk to.

With the Super Bowl coming up, the encounter gave Kay some inspiration. He invited five homeless people he met on the street to a party for the big game at a rooftop bar on Fifth Avenue, where they ate and hung out among the crowd.

"The Super Bowl is this unofficial holiday where family and friends get together. Someone who doesn't have them in their life could feel even that much more lonesome," said Kay, a 29-year-old video producer from Crown Heights.

Kay turned that impromptu invitation into an annual event called the "Super Soul Party." After planning parties in New York and Los Angeles last year, he's partnered with local shelters and is raising money through GoFundMe to make this year's celebration far bigger than the first.

Kay said he's expecting about 50 homeless people from two shelters and three to 15 more invited from the streets to gather in Chelsea on Sunday for this year's face-off between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams.

About 30 volunteers will also attend the bash, which will feature a clothing drive and an on-site barber as well as food and drinks for the guests, he said.

The get-togethers have a clear impact on the homeless people who attend, Kay said.

"They have a sparkle in their eye," he said. "Their energy is on a whole other plane. They can look you in the eye, have a conversation and they're laughing, they're communicating."

Kay has a YouTube channel with more than 210,000 subscribers. Some of his videos have racked up millions of views, including one in which he high-fives people hailing taxis and another in which he turns a subway car into a dance club. His video from last year's Super Soul Party has been viewed more than 25,000 times.

Kay hopes to grow the parties into a larger organization that can host events across the country. He wants to have a party in 20 states next year and eventually expand to every state.

The parties are transformational not just for the homeless guests but also the volunteers, who get to interact with people whom they might not otherwise take the time to talk to, Kay said.

"It really opens up and gets them in touch with a part of themselves that they hadn't had a connection with in so long, and also takes away a stigma, takes away a fear afterwards of being able to approach people who are experiencing homelessness in the streets," Kay said.

NYC’s homeless taking advantage of shutdown to sleep in unstaffed parks

The government shutdown has been great for some lower Manhattan hobos — who are now able to catch up on their beauty rest during the day on the steps of Federal Hall.

As the national memorial on Wall Street went unstaffed for the second week, The Post on Friday observed one man resting comfortably at 12:30 p.m., just feet from the giant bronze statue of George Washington.

“Excuse me, you go!” building security would have directed the snoozer if Federal Hall was open, according to vendor Rooby Abdelrehim, who was selling hot dogs and drinks a few feet away.

Behind Rip Van Winkle, there was evidence his pals also knew of the now-plum sleeping spot, with cigarette butts, papers, flattened cardboard boxes — and even a deflated blow-up neck pillow — sitting on either end of the building’s grand portico.

“Just sad,” said Jeffrey Spitzer, 30, who cursed when he saw the shuttered building — and the trash.

That mess was nothing short of unpatriotic, according to some disappointed visitors — who climbed to the locked entrance only to see a sign that said “AREA CLOSED because of a lapse in federal appropriations.”

“Our first president took his oath of office here and our [current] leader can’t get it together enough to keep it clean,” said Emma Barfield, 25.

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A single homeless woman often sleeps under the Greek Doric columns — but Federal Hall workers at least toss her cardboard boxes in the morning, said a man sweeping the sidewalk.

The partial government shutdown that began Dec. 22 closed that Greek revival building, which is run by the National Park Service, along with seven other sites in the Big Apple, including Grant’s Tomb and the Hamilton Grange.

Only the Statue of Liberty and Castle Clinton at the tip of Manhattan remain open.

Meanwhile, at another National Park site, the Gateway National Recreation Area on Staten Island, garbage cans were overflowing last week.

Some National Parks out west, which have remained open but with little or no staff, have been overrun with trash and human waste during the shutdown. And three people have died in park accidents during the shutdown, the Washington Post reported.

Tim Stack, 57, a Staten Island resident who works in finance and was taking a smoke break at the bottom of the Federal Hall steps, said he supported the government shutdown but thought the state or city should at least step in and pick up the trash.

“We’re all supposed to be in this game together,” he said.

A Christmas Day Vigil in Grand Central Remembers the Plights of the Homeless

In their trademark blue jackets and hoodies, formerly homeless members of the Doe Fund gathered Tuesday under the vaulted ceiling of Grand Central Terminal to honor the woman whose death led to the fund's creation.

She was known as Momma Doe, an Eastern European woman who took refuge in the terminal in the 1980s. She was chased away by police on Christmas Eve in 1985, and forced to spend the night in bone-chilling cold. She died on a bench there the next day.

"We started the Doe Fund, after Momma Doe died on Christmas Day in 1985, to help provide opportunity for people I had been feeding here for 700 nights in a row," said George McDonald, the founder of the Doe Fund.

The Doe Fund runs Ready, Willing and Able, a program that provides formerly homeless and incarcerated men work in return for money, housing, and an opportunity to land a private sector job to help them become self-sufficient.

Clutching electronic candles, standing shoulder to shoulder, members of the program sang songs and shared stories of how the Doe Fund transformed their lives.

Craig Twiggs joined the program in 2016, after serving 27 years in state prison for murder.

"All I had was $40 and a bus ticket after doing all that time," he said. "Nothing else to show for it, nowhere else to turn to but what I knew."

Statistics released by the city Department of Social Services shows a tight housing market coupled with soaring income inequality has led to more homeless people on New York streets.

The city's most recent daily homeless census, taken last Thursday, counted 60,887 homeless people in the city, including a staggering 22,377 children.

"There are no ups and downs in the homeless population in New York City; it's just been a straight upward incline since 1980 when Ronald Reagan was president and the federal government disinvested in housing," McDonald said. "We haven't missed a beat, and it will continue to go up because we're not investing in housing."

Christmas was not a day off for these men. After paying tribute to Mamma Doe, they returned to their jobs — work they hope will lead to the gift of housing and a self-sufficient life.