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Homeless city workers are a national embarrassment
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By Andrea Peyser
September 28, 2015

Homeless city workers are a national embarrassment

Meet Angelo Torres. He’s the $33,662-a-year city Parks Department maintenance worker who says that, for the past four months, he has been nearly penniless, depressed and living out of his beat-up 2001 Chevy Blazer on Staten Island because he can’t afford to pay New York City rent.

The low-level public servant has become the new face of homelessness — and a shame of international proportions.

“I cry every night thinking this isn’t really happening, but it is,” Torres, 45, told The Post’s Rich Calder.

After the story broke this month, a Russian TV station interviewed Joseph Puleo, president of Local 983 of District Council 37, a labor union that represents 3,000 city workers. You know times are bad when Russians show pity for the economic hardships of US citizens.

“We’ve become a national embarrassment,” Puleo told me. “They’re probably watching this in Moscow now.”

Union bigs and a man who runs a park-advocacy group estimate that more than 300 full-time unionized workers live in homeless shelters or on the streets. Puny salaries fail to put roofs over the heads of workers in a town whereStreetEasy reports the median rent is $2,690 a month.

The working homeless include Sanitation Enforcement Agent Georgie Grier, 55, who earns $33,600 a year — which failed to prevent her from having to relocate last year to the Aladdin Hotel, a crime-ridden homeless shelter in Midtown, she told Calder. “There’s a lot of addicts. It’s very scary, and I am losing a lot of weight,’’ she said.

Mayor de Blasio has made the creation of affordable housing and the battle against income inequality cornerstones of his progressive agenda, and advocated for the looming $15-an-hour minimum wage for fast-food workers in the state. Yet he has been remarkably tone-deaf on the crisis affecting city workers who may make even less than that.

A mayoral spokeswoman last week belatedly vowed to move “aggressively” toward finding permanent housing for homeless city workers — and said that only about 83 shelter habitués identify as municipal employees. But homeless advocates say many are ashamed to admit they don’t have permanent addresses.

But even if you wonder how someone can hit rock bottom while raking in a salary, however small, plus enviable fringe benefits, paid vacations, sick pay, the chance to earn overtime pay and a retirement pension, consider this: De Blasio, man of the people, is moving heaven and earth to boost the bottom lines of himself and his closest political allies.

In keeping with his penchant for creating new layers of government bureaucracy to find solutions for questionable problems, de Blasio announced this month that he has formed a three-member advisory commission to determine whether all city officials who are elected deserve to get the potentially fat pay raises they’ve been denied for the last eight years.

I’m not crying for city brass. The 51 members of the useless City Council each earns $112,500 annually, plus “lulus” — most get stipends between $5,000 and $20,000 annually for heading committees and subcommittees. Public Advocate Letitia James rakes in $165,000 a year, essentially for finding ways to make cops miserable. And does anyone know what the five borough presidents do to justify their $160,000-apiece annual pay?

And then there’s the mayor.

He gets paid $225,000 a year and lives rent-free with his family in Gracie Mansion, where a 12-person staff cooks, cleans and tends the yard, plus cops are on call to drive him around. (De Blasio’s spokesman said he’d decline a pay hike now, but the mayor opened the door to sharing in the wealth if he’s re-elected in 2017.)

But where is the committee to determine whether peons like Torres deserve monstrous pay hikes?

DC 37 locals represent a total of 121,000 workers, and some full-timers earn as little as $24,000 a year.

Things fell apart for Torres after his Staten Island apartment was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. He then lived with a girlfriend, but they split, leaving him broke. Afraid of shelters, he beds down in his vehicle parked near Midland Beach, rising at 5 a.m. each day to clean up debris for the next eight hours.

Geoffrey Croft, president of NYC Park Advocates, a nonprofit watchdog dedicated to improving city parks, cited another example. “This woman, a longtime parks worker, lives with, like, 16 other people in a one-bedroom place,” he told me.

I’d rather see taxpayer money go to helping folks like Torres than see it squandered on a task force bent on pushing out Times Squares’ costumed characters and body-painted desnudas.

Why should bureaucrats have all the fun?

©2007-2024 Andrea Peyser and; No Reuse without permission.
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