Crown Heights

OPINION: Gentrification, a holdup of Crown Heights

March 27, 2015 By Gyaltsen F. Go For Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Gyaltsen F. Go has worked as a Methadone Maintenance Alcohol and Substance Abuse Counselor in NYC. Photo courtesy of Gyaltsen F. Go

The first time I had an indirect encounter with a holdup was in 2010. I saw his tall figure standing at the end of the hallway. He had a buzz cut, wore army-green cargo pants and a white graphic T-shirt that was soiled a murky yellow in the armpits and neckline. He bore the weight of his life in a monstrous backpack that ran the length of his torso and stretched past his neck, crowning his head with its dirt-stained presence.

I led him into my office and asked for two forms of ID so I could begin the screening process. He took out a stack of rubber-banded cards from his pocket and pulled out a temporary Medicaid and homeless shelter card. I regretfully informed him that these did not meet the requirement for two valid forms of ID.

“Well then what am I suppose to do I need to get medicated [with methadone] I’m gonna start having withdrawals I haven’t used since yesterday I don’t have more money to buy [heroin],” he frantically said.

This NYC methadone clinic can’t accept anyone without proper ID, and I don’t know of any clinic that would, I told him.

His big brown eyes pressed into mine from where he sat and the color of life escaped his pale face, his despair leaking out toward me like a suffocating gas. I felt the panic surging from his entire body.   

 “F–k! I’m gonna have to hold someone up at the ATM,” he said to himself as he abruptly got up and disappeared from my office, though his words hung in the air like a noose.

I sat there powerless, staring at the chair he was just sitting in, my heart running, mouth half open, catching my breath. Knowing that somewhere, someone was going to be held up at gunpoint tonight.

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Now, five years later, his desperation-driven intent came to memory. I was at work, showing my coworker the online article that featured Two Saints, the new café/bar at the corner of my block in Crown Heights, Brooklyn — a Caribbean-rich neighborhood.

“How great!” she said. “Places like that make the neighborhood safer.”

I sternly disagreed.

“Yeah but in general places like that always make the neighborhood better,” she insisted.

It doesn’t.

Her statements are ridden with ignorance and prejudice, and it enrages me even more because she is completely oblivious of this. To state that gentrification alone will make this neighborhood “safer” and “better” is to completely fail to understand core socioeconomic issues that are at the root of crime and illegal activity, and instead attempt to address it from a dangerously bigoted approach.

The opening of Two Saints (and other new local businesses) would not have had the ability to prevent any facet of that man’s dire situation — his criminal activity, homelessness, drug addiction, etc. — and does not aid the pre-existing residents, whereas methadone clinics, for example, are a legitimate community resource. The assistance provided by methadone clinics reduces illicit opiate use, the risk of contracting HIV, and the rate of drug-related crime (Marsch, 1998). Although gentrification may appear to resolve these problems, in reality it only introduces a new population, thereby pushing out the affected locals farther into Brooklyn (Lees, 2008). It causes the cost of living to increase above what the neighborhood’s original residents can afford, and without the protection of rent-regulated policies, gradually displaces them from their own home (Newman & Wyly, 2006). Gentrification can undeniably have negative consequences on a societal level, but an individual’s seeded misapprehension of its assumed advantages is the conflict that must be equally addressed.

When I moved into this neighborhood half a decade ago, I fell in love with it — as is. I feel apologetic that my existence here (along with others) has had a functioning role in the gentrification of it — the influx of trendy restaurants, bars and shops that have since opened on Franklin Avenue and are now reaching to Nostrand Avenue. While I can appreciate the convenience of now being walking distance from the Brooklyn Flea Market, for instance, I am regretful that it is transforming the Caribbean-flavored area into streets I can almost no longer recognize. And I am even more sorry that people, such as my coworker, think that this neighborhood will be “safer” and “better” because of it.

Desperation does not have a color; desperation is not confined by neighborhood. The desperation in that man I encountered five years ago is not simply solved with gentrification. Rather, we, the gentrifiers, have become the ones who are holding-up a neighborhood, slowly robbing it of its culture, identity and people.

Gyaltsen F. Go graduated from the University of Washington with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, and a concentration in sociology and English. She has worked as a Methadone Maintenance Alcohol and Substance Abuse Counselor in NYC.


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