When the late New York Congresswoman, Shirley Chisholm, said, “You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas,” at least one man was listening — Jack Brown III. He also heard her when she admonished, “Don’t listen to those who say YOU CAN’T. Listen to the voice inside yourself that says, I CAN.”
Envisioning a better way to meet the needs of New York City’s 48,000 homeless residents, Mr. Brown launched CORE Services Group. For more than a decade under his leadership, CORE has provided innovative, high-quality residential and supportive services that have enabled homeless individuals to feel safe, find shelter and be empowered to contribute to their community.
Beginning in 2014, CORE began to build a portfolio of shelter programs for the homeless, including some that were relinquished by providers that had run into difficulty. By early 2020, CORE’s portfolio included 40 programs with 1,300 staff members serving more than 3,000 homeless people each night. CORE appeared to be well on the way to fulfilling Jack Brown’s vision of a better way.
In the category of “no good deed goes unpunished,” Mr. Brown has been blindsided by largely ad hominem attacks from City officials and the local media — together attempting to paint him as a “housing boss” with a “troubled past.” Yet, apparently the worst that can be said is that Mr. Brown has earned a salary commensurate with his responsibilities and that CORE has used a customary corporate structure (which was disclosed to the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) to deliver high quality services. In fact, CORE has been scrupulous in proactively and transparently communicating with DHS and other funders about its organization and staff salaries.
The City’s treatment of Mr. Brown and CORE is perhaps the clearest example yet of how a craven administration hides from its own shameful failures by casting aspersions upon the character of those that it assumes are unwilling or unable to fight back with facts and truth. While the De Blasio Administration trumpets its concern for NYC’s marginalized and disadvantaged residents — here it attacks a minority-run organization in an attempt to hide from its failed housing policies.
De Blasio’s DHS has a dismal record of supporting its providers, especially Black and other minority-governed businesses. In fact, earlier this year, in a report card issued by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, DHS received an ‘F,’ for failing to do business with Black-owned companies.
Mr. Brown’s mission was, and continues to be, to provide services to the city’s most vulnerable at a time when bureaucrats all too often turn a blind eye to their most disenfranchised constituents. CORE programs help clients secure jobs or access technical skills training, mentorship, training in independent living skills, case management and permanent housing placement. And they do all this without ever losing sight of the dignity and respect owed to those they are helping.
Instead of acknowledging their own shortcomings in addressing homelessness, certain officials in City Hall who have never set foot in a shelter appear bent on sullying Jack Brown’s reputation through leaks to the press. And the media has been happy to oblige and pile on by making insinuations based on cherry-picked facts taken out of context.
Why are prominent media outlets attacking CORE, an organization that has faithfully served the City and people in need and even continued to do so during the past 18 months though it wasn’t being paid for many of the services it was providing? Because nothing sells papers and generates clicks like a juicy corruption story, even one that is rooted in insinuations and lacking in evidence. And perhaps because CORE – which is owed $33 million for services already provided during a pandemic that killed thousands of New Yorkers – asked DHS to pay up so it could continue to employ the staff members who have shown up to work every day since the beginning of the pandemic and have risked their own health (and the health of their families) to care for the most vulnerable among us.
I can only hope that the next administration will correct the wrongs of the De Blasio Administration and do right by Jack Brown, a Black man who has dedicated his life to helping others get back on their feet – because he believes everyone deserves a second chance and no one can do it alone.
Jack Brown’s plight is yet another sad example of the impediments Black Americans still face when we strive for excellence. Mr. Brown is being pilloried for his commitment to caring for homeless New Yorkers, a group which unfortunately includes a disproportionate number of Black and brown people. CORE came every time DHS called. But sadly, as Congresswoman Chisholm also once said, “Racism is so universal in this country, so widespread, and deep-seated, that it is invisible because it is so normal.”
Benjamin Lloyd Crump is an American attorney who specializes in civil rights and catastrophic personal injury cases such as wrongful death lawsuits.