You are reading

Van Bramer Recounts the Time His Family Was in a Shelter, in Aim to Humanize the Plight of the Homeless

Aug. 25, 2014 By Christian Murray

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer wrote an op-ed that was published in the Daily News Sunday that detailed how he and his family were homeless when he was a young boy.

Van Bramer said his decision to write the op-ed was inspired by a series of meetings that he had recently held with city officials concerning the number of homeless families in New York City—and some of the rancor concerning the opening of some Queens shelters.

The meetings came in the wake of the outcry from many Queens residents about the opening of an emergency shelter at the former Pan Am Hotel on Queens Blvd in Elmhurst, as well as the opening of the Westway Motel in East Elmhurst.

“Some of the ugly things that people said in front of these [homeless] children have been horrible,” Van Bramer said, referring to the Pan Am protests [see video below]. “These are innocent children who are in shelters through no fault of their own.”

Van Bramer also said that he wrote the article to expose some of the myths and stereotypes that are out there concerning homeless people.

“The myth is that these people don’t want to work,” he said. However, “that’s false…since so many homeless people do work and just don’t have enough money to get by.”

Furthermore, these people don’t want to be in homeless shelters long term—much like his parents didn’t want to be either.

Van Bramer said his family’s situation was emblematic of many homeless people’s story today. His family stayed with financially-strapped uncles and aunts– before they had no choice but to go to a shelter.

“My family’s journey into and out of homelessness began like so many others then and now,” Van Bramer wrote in the Daily News. “Dad was drinking heavily, money got tight, some poor decisions were made, and a family teetered on the brink of despair as a result.”

Van Bramer’s father, who worked as a journeyman pressman, eventually found accommodation in a small tenement after being in a shelter for six weeks.

“These are not horrible people out to destroy neighborhoods…these are folks who are down on their luck whose children are in need,” Van Bramer said.

Van Bramer said he was hopeful that people might be more empathetic to the plight of the homeless after learning how a middle class councilman was once homeless.

For the Van Bramer op-ed click here:

Councilman Van Bramer

By Jimmy Van Bramer

A young father enters a colorless room holding his infant son while his wife sits nearby trying to believe this isn’t happening. Their older kids, not much older than the infant, stay close. They are all tired and they are all homeless. The father tells the intake worker that they had been staying with friends but had to leave and now have nowhere else to turn. He asks for help because they have no money and his baby son just needs a bottle of milk.

The father is 25, it is 1970 in New York City, and I am that baby boy.

For the rest, click here.

email the author:


Click for Comments 

ROFL! I cant stop laughing at that video – FOB asians that can barely speak a word of Engrish (and really surprised that they even learned) are protesting what? they cant/wont even fill out census papers! ICE/INS seriously needs to step in and deport the illegals. you should see how bad Frushing is compared to this side of town.

Sunnyside Nostalgia

As the daughter of a once homeless single mother, wearing hand me downs & being ridiculed for wearing boy clothes, I sympathize for these families. People need to stop dehumanizing them simply because they can’t afford a home. Do you know how expensive it us to live in Sunnyside? I once dreamed of having my own apartment here before based on my exponential projections on rent increases I thought it would be readybut rent is blue crazy high . I hope none of you will ever be homeless. It is the worstfeeling ever.

Julia Assange

Jimmy is “majority leader” based on what accomplishments? He wants us to know that he “has suffered”. This is close to being farce. We also have a city council president that tweeted about her STD. What a crew New York City has! Congratulations, voters!

43rd & 43rd

I understand the article and even have sympathy with it. But for Jimmy van Bramer to be calling himself “a middle class councilman” now is sickening. It’s a disgusting attempt to pretend to be “just one of the regular folks” even though in no way is he remotely middle-class. That appalling BS makes me think so much less of him.


Van Bramer just pouring it on to show he cares and others don’t just like most liberal politicians it is all about caring


“We were living in the shadows of St. Theresa’s Catholic church where I had been recently baptized”….Is JVB implying something here? And why is he posing for a picture in front of the church? Is he suggesting the church had an obligation to house his family?..No money for a bottle of milk?..JVB is really pouring the B.S on thick..Agreed the homeless need help and support but not in JVB’s backyard..after all it’s a landmarked community. ..May I suggest one of the vacant lots down in L.I.C for a shelter along the waterfront..fat chance on that..Be rest assured JVB will keep them out of Sunnyside.

Tempus Fugit

If Van Bramer is so passionate about this issue, why doesn’t he offer to relocate the homeless shelter to his own district?

For some odd reason, I don’t think that will happen.

Talk is cheap.

Julia Assange

Many of the people who are homeless have alcohol and drug problems – which is why they are homeless! (Many, not all, of course). I doubt Jimmy van B. would want a shelter near his Sunnyside Gardens home. Quality of life does matter. And yes, I feel sorry for homeless families especially when children are involved. This is another example of a politician wearing his compassion on his sleeves.

Lucky Lu

The signs those people are holding are so utterly offensive it is beyond belief. Someone in their community needs to sensitize them to that fact. I sense that the protestors are more concerned with the color of the shelter’s inhabitants and have little to no understanding of how the shelter’s presence will affect their community, if at all. When I lived in the Midwest I lived one block away from a small homeless shelter for single men (probably the least desirable homeless group) and there was no increase in crime. The shelter had strict rules about the men not hanging out in the area once the shelter closed in the morning. The shelter in Elmhurst is housing families who are hoping to one day have their own apartments. These are people who are together as families and trying to do things the right way and who are not as luck as some of us who might have family to help us out when we are down on our luck, unemployed or ill. Pete is right, homeless people are not the perpetrators of muggings and violent crimes.

Is there any way we can protest these protestors, let them know how despicable their behavior is? I would be happy to do so. 2, 4, 6, 8, who do we NOT appreciate? The ignorant! The prejudice!


My son’s former school, PS 229, gets a number of children from the homeless shelter long located at the Metropolitan Hotel on Queens Blvd. around 72nd Street. The school’s parent coordinator told me that some of the families in homeless shelters are there because their apartments became uninhabitable (fire, flood, etc.) In addition, city officials have said that many of the adults of the homeless families have jobs. It is beyond comprehension that the children in the video were coached by their parents to chant “pay your rent” and held signs saying the homeless were “hobos.”


Actually there have been studies. So many people claim crime goes up with a housing shelter nearby, I had to see for myself if that was actually true, or just prejudice. Surprise surprise! It’s just prejudice.

A study in Denver during the 80’s (during a period when a significant number of supportive housing was built) showed that for housing that is occupied by 53 people or less, no one notices anything, the residents blend in to the community, and the crime rate does not change. However, with 53 or more residents of a housing facility, the crime rate DOES go up… but not due to the residents of the facility. The crimes tend to be committed AGAINST the residents of a housing facility.

“We think it more likely, therefore, that the crime impact occurs because large facilities either provide a pool of potential victims and/or make it difficult for the neighborhood to maintain collective efficacy.”

The inability to maintain collective efficacy can be easily remedied by actually including the shelter residents into the community instead of ostracizing them.



The guy shares a personal story to try and help homeless kids and the haters come out of the woodwork – pathetic. He’s a good councilman.

Thomas Covenent

Being homeless is something I would not wish on anyone.
While Mr.Van Bramer discusses his struggles about living in
a homeless shelter, we have to face the reality that he is

The people who mostly but not all are either of Hispanic or
African American descent. They may have been shifted from one
shelter to another over the years and some might have become
bitter. Meaning that some but not all act in a way that makes it
seem that there bad people. You get good and bad people in
whatever ethnic enclave. But it just takes one or a group of people
to ruin it for everyone else.

I understand the fact that some people in the Elmhurst community
are upset and may have been too confrontational. We must keep in
mind that they were not informed and the Pan American Hotel was
quickly filled in with families.

I sympathize for those with families but the ones at fault are the people in charge who placed those families there. The area is over crowded enough as it is. Nobody thought about the schools and will there be enough space or the long term living conditions in a hotel. Especially if a big family is living in a room that should only support two people at most.

As for the crime. I live around the area and half not noticed any increase at all. While the Police precinct says there nothing happening we must remember that sometimes crimes committed by minorities are under reported. Whatever the reason is we must be vigilant and firm but not hastily judge unless there is irrefutable evidence.

Final thoughts are that those in charge never plan things through sometimes and just go with it. They should be open to input from the communities and the displace families.


The fact is, that homeless shelter in Elmhurst opened with absolutely no notification to the neighborhood. They moved to the people in at night one weekend to make sure that no one saw. It was very sneaky. And basically, they dropped a big stink bomb on a neighborhood that was starting to make a comeback after a long stretch of decline. JVB is just sucking up to deBlasio by writing this piece. It is so obvious.

And like others have mentioned, JVB would never stand for this in his neighborhood. He can’t even deal with some fire trucks. The fact is, these shelters screw up the neighborhoods in which they are located. The deBlasio administration thought they could get away with putting it in Elmhurst because there are many immigrants there who they did not think would notice or have the ability to organize against it. They where wrong. I will accept the location of this shelter as soon as I see shelters in Park slope, the upper east and west side of Manhattan, Williamsburg, Brooklyn Heights, and all the other snobby neighborhoods in this city.

It is also important to mention that there is another homeless shelter a few blocks away in Elmhurst already.

losing faith

I genuinely like JVB, and overall I like what (I believe) he’s about most of the time, but like 7TrainDelays said, let’s get real.

No one wants a homeless shelter near their place of residence, and if JVB or any other Sunnysider was truly challenged, they would fold like a deck of cards.

“Not in my backyard!!!” would be a uniform chant.

It’s fine to feel bad from a distance, but I think JVB’s editorial came of as a bit disingenuous.

If he’s all for helping the homeless, why didn’t he refuse the previously awarded Sunnyside Gardens funds and siphon them back into a program to help the afflicted?

Or maybe that’s where the unaccounted for/undocumented lulus are going?
In the dark about lulus?
Google it and get back to me.

I WANT to believe in JVB but I am becoming increasingly concerned that I just can’t.


It’s easy for a politician to parade their false compassion around when it’s another constituency that must deal with the consequences. If this shelter were located anywhere near Van Bramer’s home, he’d be whistling a different tune.

This is a man who opposed the FDNY parking a few fire trucks near his residence.


A candid and moving op-ed piece depicting one family’s experience. You’d be surprised at how many of us can certainly relate to varying degrees. His meteoric rise from such humble beginnings is truly awe-inspiring and I for one look forward to reading his autobiography someday.


@Thomster – I bet their parents still can’t speak a lick of English even after being in this country for decades.


Just a note– I work with homeless people on a regular basis and through direct experience and also from having read statistics on the matter I know that the vast majority of homeless people are not criminals. I don’t understand this phobia people have with them. The ones who are sticking up stores or robbing and mugging people aren’t the homeless; rather they are professional thugs. The homeless generally don’t have the time, resources, or inclination due to their economic deprivation to plan, organize, and carry out operations like that. As I’ve said previously, someone who can’t afford lunch won’t be buying weapons.

Yes, I know that some of them can create a nuisance in terms of quality of life issues through their appearance, behavior, and way of speaking, but this does not make them criminals. This is as much an issue of affordable housing, wages, and job security as it is about pathology.

Study needed

Let’s see a study on the following:

1. Was there a rise in crime in districts/precincts that opened new homeless shelters in the past few years?

2. What happened to the property values of those that live around the shelter in the years after it opened?

These are the things that people fear.

Not mentioned….the ‘hangers on’ effect. These families come with people that do not belong there.

Show the people that are against them #’s to quell their fears. Or, are you afraid that the #’s will only make it worse?!


I heard you can’t even walk around over there anymore a lot of people getting robbed..they are just trying to maintain their community/neighborhood from going to the toilet which if ppl are getting robbed or jumped then those ppl have the right to protest


Celtic Bark…you are right. Why don’t we build on the corner open space. Come on JVB, make it happen.

Celtic Bark


I have an idea. Let’s build a homeless camp on the grounds of Sunnyside Gardens Park and see how JVB reacts.

Celtic Bark

Ok, let’s take care of the homeless and unemployed we already have here before bringing in thousands and thousands more from south off the border.


Disgusting………There was a time when their parents were immigrants who couldn’t speak a word of English. The hatred from these people directed at folks who are down on their luck. I’ll guarantee that they’ll sit in a church come Sunday and think they’re a good Christian.


Leave a Comment
Reply to this Comment

All comments are subject to moderation before being posted.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Recent News

AG James announces dismantling of Queens-based ghost gun trafficking operation

New York Attorney General Letitia James announced Wednesday the takedown of a prolific Queens-based gun trafficking crew accused of selling firearms and ammo at an East Elmhurst playground, the Queens Center Mall and other locations around the borough.

James secured a 625-count indictment charging five men for participating in the gun smuggling ring, which involved selling dozens of ghost guns, assault weapons, high-capacity magazines and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.