There is so much to celebrate about Long Island in 2020, as illustrated by the conversation at the HIA-LI Legislative Breakfast on January 17. The $2.6 billion grant to Brookhaven National Laboratory to construct an electron ion collider over the next ten years will undoubtedly change the tecno-landscape of our region, and position Long Island as an even more significant location to attract a highly talented workforce in the Sciences. The installation of new sewer systems and additional luxury apartments in Smithtown and Islip townships will attract new businesses and new residents able to afford the many benefits of living in a vibrant downtown area. The planned New York Islander’s Arena in Elmont, and the proposal to construct a convention center in Ronkonkoma might pump millions of needed additional income into the economies of both Nassau and Suffolk Counties. These achievements and bold ideas deserve to be supported by our elected officials at all levels of government. However, we need to balance our growth in these exciting areas by keeping our focus on the human services landscape in our region that, is plagued with many challenges.
On January 12, as widely reported in the media, there were 2,500 people that took part in the “March Against Anti-Semitism,” which was led by Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone on the steps of the Nassau County Legislature Building in Mineola. Dozens of elected officials, civic and religious leaders spoke about the need for unity and tolerance in the wake of ongoing attacks against the Jewish community, and a Task Force on Anti-Semitism was convened. However, if we continue to discriminate against minority families purchasing homes in certain communities, we will have failed. If an LGBTQ student continues to be bullied in school, we have failed. And, if additional swastikas are painted on our synagogues, we will have failed.
Then there is the issue of the street homeless population on Long Island. There is simply not enough resources being provided to our region to help our veterans, emotionally disabled, and young people living at Long Island Rail Road stations, in wooded areas, and behind Home Depots that are need of affordable housing, Section 8 HUD vouchers, and safe shelters. During a three-hour legislative hearing on January 16 at SUNY Farmingdale, state legislators made the case for additional rent subsidies to help property owners and developers build new affordable housing but, building apartments that would rent for $2,400 a month for a one-bedroom unit is just not affordable for many people with limited income or those receiving government entitlements. We need a better solution and bold thinking if we are to get our homeless of the streets before they die in the elements. Unfortunately, this wasn’t discussed at the hearing.
These are just two areas where our region is lagging-behind other countries, cities and municipalities, and how realistic will it be to solve our problems when New York State is facing a $6 billion deficit in 2020? So, while we celebrate the good fortunes of BNL, Smithtown, Islip, Elmont, Ronkonkoma, and the Nassau Hub, we must keep our focus on the many people on Long Island who struggle with homelessness, discrimination, mental illness, substance abuse and hunger every day, because for them, there isn’t much to celebrate.