5 Ways to Fatten Your Bottom Line by Drastically Cutting Energy Costs

Save energy and you’ll save money, too. Here’s how.

This article was originally published on Entrepreneur.

Leadership often demands touch choices, but the decisions you make about your company’s energy usage shouldn’t require too much deliberation. Businesses squander an estimated 30 percent of their energy spending through inefficient practices. In a crowded marketplace, those wasted resources can make a world of difference.

You live by the fortunes of your company and spend a good deal of time looking for every possible edge. Why, then, should you waste money on inefficient energy practices? When the life of your business and the well-being of the world as a whole are at stake, the choice to save energy becomes a pretty easy one.

The good news is it’s easier than ever to make your business more energy-efficient. The green movement has hit the business world in a major way, and that means plenty of simple options can help you save on energy costs. Here are a few ways that a relatively small investment can reduce spending and lower your environmental impact.

Appoint an “efficiency czar.”

Naming an office “energy czar” gives your company the ability to correct efficiency issues as soon as (or possibly even before) they cost you money. An administrator already manages the ins and outs of the workplace, so putting him or her in charge of energy use is a natural extension of job responsibilities.

The office manager takes care of administrative tasks around the building and naturally has a finger on the pulse of your company’s day-to-day operations. This person or someone in a similar role may be best positioned to streamline your company’s energy use. No matter who you choose, she or he must be conscientious and motivated — someone who can identify potential areas for improvement with an eye on eco-friendly developments.

Practice out with the old, in with the new.

Your newly appointed energy specialist’s first order of business? A full audit of your fixtures and equipment. Energy-efficient electronics might seem an unnecessary purchase, but they’ll more than make up for the price difference after a year or two of regular use.

A multitude of energy-efficient electronics are labeled so you can check ratings when it’s time to replace your old computers, printers, copiers and other equipment. Even when you’re not using electronics, they’re consuming energy. This perpetual standby can account for as much as 10 percent of electricity costs, so devices with better ratings will reveal an immediate impact. Odds are you’re using a wide variety of equipment. Evaluate it all, from your phone to the server on which you store your data.

Keep your data cool.

If your business makes use of a data center or server farm, cost-cutting opportunities await. Such facilities represent an estimated 2 percent of theentire country’s energy use — equivalent to about 70 billion kilowatt-hours per year. You can reduce your data center’s footprint within this massive outlay. Even if you’re not directly in control of the center, you can make an informed choice to partner with a data provider that uses smart energy practices.

Powerful processors must be kept cool, and centers can achieve this without putting all the emphasis on expensive air-conditioning. For example, you can save a good deal of processing power by installing power-management software that puts servers on standby when not in use. Good air flow in your facility is vital as well, and the “hot aisle/cold aisle” layout has been shown to regulate temperature and reduce energy use by an estimated 20 to 25 percent.

Perform regular HVAC maintenance.

Working in an energy-friendly climate means having careful control over your heating and cooling systems. Many of the fixes here can be handled only by trained HVAC professionals, so invite one to assess your building’s performance and suggest needed changes. These intricate systems make your building habitable, and regular upkeep prevents waste while maintaining a pleasant work environment.

You might be surprised that complex systems often rely on simple procedures. Something as straightforward as replacing (or cleaning, depending on manufacturer recommendations) air filters can make a big difference. In fact, a regularly maintained HVAC system can provide a savings of up to 40 percent. Your HVAC system drains money when it runs at less than optimal efficiency, so be sure all components are in good working order and insulated to prevent energy loss. It might seem obvious, but you can’t afford to squander any small amount of care when up to 40 percent of your entire building’s energy use is at stake.

Integrate solar energy.

Incorporating solar power into your energy use is a significant energy-saving option for business operations of just about any size. For a negligible cost (plus, it’s tax-deductible), you can outfit your space with noninvasive solar panels capable of generating up to 100 percent of your electricity — without releasing environmentally destructive emissions.

When it comes to saving energy and money, there’s no clearer win-win than solar. Although many business owners seem overly hesitant to adopt solar energy, the array of business and environmental benefits should make this an easy transition. With solar, CEOs can cut energy costs nearly in half while reducing their company’s environmental impact. Of all the tough decisions you make as CEO, the choice to add solar won’t be one of them.

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3 Essential Traits for Earning the Trust of Your Customers

This article was originally posted on Entrepreneur

Trust is invaluable, but it can’t be purchased, only earned. There is no shortcut, only commitment.

 

The most valuable thing you’ll ever own is the trust of your clients, customers, and peers. You can’t buy it, and earning it isn’t always simple. It’s the sentiment that launched a thousand cliches, but they’re cliches for a reason: they’re true.

The value of trust can’t be overstated. It’s how you create beneficial relationships, and it is the backbone of every successful business career. You build trust in a number of ways, and while proving yourself will take time, once you’ve got your company to where you need it, you’ll see it was worth every second.

Garnering trust isn’t only a matter of being honest (you should be doing that anyway), but of living up to the standards that your clients and customers demand. Over the years, I’ve noticed three components of every trustworthy business I’ve dealt with, whether in a business-to-business fashion or as a customer myself. By incorporating these tenets into my own initiatives, I find that I keep my own business’ customers happy, since they know that in dealing with us, they can be secure in what they’re buying into.

Bring value.

It may seem self-explanatory, but without the foundation of a quality product or service, those connections you’re hoping to make will avoid you like the plague. People trust your business because they trust your abilities and your strengths. Demonstrate those strengths by producing the best product available, and don’t cut corners. You’re only as good as your name, and your name is printed on everything you do.

Being detail-oriented and ultra-aware of the goings on in your company ensures that everyone is on the same page when it comes to creating value. Delegate when you need to, but getting everything right is ultimately your job as the leader. Steve Jobs at Apple is a great example of a successful leader who, while he had a great team beneath him, knew the biggest responsibilities were his and acted accordingly. While you don’t have to be as aggressive as he sometimes was, never forget that in order to capture minds you have to truly fulfill users’ needs. That means producing something great. You do that when your leadership can get everyone on board.

Bring consistency.

Once you’ve got that great product, your work can truly begin. The next step is to stay consistent. You must let your users or customers know that they can always expect great results when they buy into what you’re selling.

Consistency doesn’t mean hitting every ball out of the park. Deal with failure (and there will always be failures) by holding on to what you do best, even in tough times. Even when you take hits, a consistently great product or service is your jumping-off point for recovery. Consistency at its core is about meeting expectations, and if you can do that effectively, you’ve earned the trust of your customers.

Disastrous failure happens to those who miss expectations by making promises they can’t deliver on. The story of Theranos provides a great lesson (well, great for those who didn’t own stock) in the value of living up to your promises and being a consistent source of good.

Vanity Fair expose in 2016 laid bare all the facts: in short, the company promised huge leaps in technology that it wasn’t sure it could deliver on. While they were able to accumulate trust in the short term with dazzling projections, once those promises turned out to be false it all came tumbling down. Expectations weren’t met, assured developments didn’t materialize, and fraud charges provided perhaps the best lesson in the importance of being trustworthy.

Surprises are great on your birthday but in business, they’re almost never welcome. Steady consistency, reliability and comfort are what you must bring to your clientele. Lofty promises create a hollow, short-term and ultimately weak trust that rarely becomes anything more than empty words. Be ambitious, yes, but make sure your promises can be met consistently.

Bring transparency.

Bringing transparency means being open about the decisions you make and why you’re making them. With more lines of communication on hand than ever before, running a trustworthy business means quality messaging, the type that builds trust through honesty and clarity.

If you’ve got a customer-facing brand, your social media engagement will be a key aspect of your transparency. Accessibility for those you serve, whether the public at large or your B2B clients is a must in the 21st century, and responsiveness is key. Being responsive without making excuses leaves your customers happy and puts your competition on notice. Failing to engage, whether in the office or online, has serious consequences for trustworthiness.

It’s probably not a coincidence that United Airlines, while a prominent brand, is facing down PR nightmares seemingly one after another as their social media-based customer assistance lags far behind their peers. From well-publicized dog trouble to the headline-dominating story of the passenger dragged from his flight last year, these big problems have only been compounded by a failure to effectively control the story openly and honestly. It provides the public with the picture of a cloistered company that fails to accommodate the needs (and occasionally the rights) of the people who rely on them for travel.

Transparency also means owning up. It’s often painful, and never easy, but in the long run acknowledging (rather than ignoring), your mistakes gives those you deal with reason to trust your word in the future. For years, Domino’s Pizza received harsh criticism of their pizza and when shying away from it proved impossible, they faced it head-on. One huge self-deprecating ad campaign later, stock prices and customer satisfaction exceeded all expectations. It was a massive risk, but their transparency gave customers a reason to believe that the company was acting in good faith, and wallets opened accordingly.

The paths to trustworthiness in business are many, and every company blazes their own trail. While the route you take is your own, with value, consistency, and transparency, you can be assured that your customers will gladly follow you.

Four Ways Self-Managing Keeps You In The Driver’s Seat

This article was first published on Forbes.

Real estate owner/investors are a self-driven group. I can think of few other professions so full of ambitious, determined and motivated people. Outside of satisfying those ambitions, there are other great joys in building ownership as well. I got into this business partly because I like the physical representation of my hard work: the actual, tangible property filled with satisfied tenants. I know I’m not the only one.

Which is why it strikes me as a little surprising that we don’t see more self-managed buildings. Instead, owners often choose to farm out that responsibility to third parties and pass on the responsibility of running the property to someone else. Needless to say, “someone else” usually won’t run it as well as you do.

I’m not knocking the management companies themselves, which are generally run by capable people. But there are a few distinct advantages to self-management that seem to get overlooked by otherwise meticulous and capable minds. These are four of the reasons building owners ought to consider managing their own properties.

1. Keep A Close Eye On Your Investment

If you’re like me, you want to have your eyes on everything that your organization is doing. Some might call it micromanaging, but when done correctly, it’s simply a more thoughtful, hands-on form of leadership. You’re the one in charge, so why shouldn’t you be aware of everything that’s happening in the company? There are fewer opportunities to be blindsided when you manage in a hands-on fashion.

Constant awareness is another distinct advantage of self-managing your building. There’s no room for misunderstandings between you and your manager when you’re the manager yourself. The building is run exactly the way you want — your vision is what guides the property, and while you certainly put some stock in the ideas of your employees, you’re the one responsible for making final decisions.

2. The Best Crash Course In The World

You’ll be faced with a lot of varied tasks as a building manager, but at the end of the day, knowing you’ve given yourself completely to the functioning of your property is the most gratifying feeling there is. Not only are you running the show, you’re putting together a bulletproof playbook of building expertise.

Maintenance, marketing, bookkeeping, rent collection, even taking out the trash is your job now. While that might sound daunting, it’s the kind of tough work that equips you for the future. Once it’s time to branch out and buy your next building, even if this time you do hire a management company, now you’ve got the knowledge and experience of someone who knows exactly how to get the (many) jobs done. If the management company isn’t cutting it, you’ll be able to make the next move with authority. That’s the kind of self-determination you can’t put a price on.

3. Save Money

This probably isn’t breaking news, but it’s a fact that I’ve seen too many of my peers neglect. While self-managing certainly doesn’t save you any time, it reduces expenses in a major way. Management companies, for all the great work they do, aren’t cheap. In fact, property management would likely be your next-highest expense after paying for the property itself. If you’ve got the time and the ability to manage the building, why not let your tenants pay youfor all that work and cut out the middleman?

Building management companies are allowed to be pricey for a reason: The type of work they handle simply isn’t to the tastes of many entrepreneurs. The paperwork, the tenant interactions, and the challenge of keeping a building running scares off plenty of people who see property ownership as just another financial instrument. If you’re like me and many other self-managers, you’re not afraid of getting your hands dirty if it means running a great building with lower overhead costs.

4. Accountability Counts

When you self-manage, there’s no passing the buck. The life of your properties is your own life, and there’s no room to share responsibility. It might seem daunting, but it’s actually liberating.

The freedom you get from being the one in charge is maximized when you self-manage. You’re running the type of building you want to run, with nobody between you and your clientele. There’s no bureaucracy or red tape, so any issues that need addressing get addressed by you, not by a self-interested middle manager.

Of course, you’re not 100% alone in keeping things running. The hires you make, like your super, doormen, porters, contractors and the like will all be vetted to your exact specifications. The vital support system that keeps your tenants (i.e., your customers) happy is the lifeblood of your building, and the self-manager has a heavily vested interest in keeping that blood running that a third party simply doesn’t.

Getting into the real estate business isn’t easy, but once you do, you should have a decent idea of what kind of leader you are. If you’re the kind of person who isn’t OK driving a car without a clue how the engine works, self-managing is a natural step to take.

Look at it this way: When your car has a flat tire, do you call AAA and sit helplessly by the roadside, waiting for help? Or do you pick up the tire iron and do the job yourself, without paying some tow company to do it for you? If you’re not afraid of getting your hands a little dirty (and saving money in the process), self-managing is the building ownership route for you.

Can Corporate Philanthropy End Homelessness?

Where the public sector falls short, private philanthropy through individual or corporate donors has stepped in to give vital support. In areas like community development, education, and humanitarian aid, corporate philanthropy has demonstrated real value in helping stem the major problems of today.

Maybe because it lacks glamor of the arts or the universality of education, or perhaps because it’s such a seemingly insurmountable problem, but homelessness hasn’t historically been the most popular target for large-scale corporate philanthropy. Therefore, it’s been up to cities and states to legislate the issue, with mixed but mostly negative results. The homelessness scourge persists to the detriment of our civil society. In a word, it hurts us all to live in a country that lets so many go without reliable and safe shelter. In a hopeful development, however, some corporate coffers have been opened up in recent months.

To help in the fight, tech giant Cisco Systems announced a $50 million gift to Destination: Home, an anti-homelessness charity in their native Santa Clara County in California. Destination: Home describes it’s mission simply and logically: ending homelessness in their region through creating permanent housing and sustainable support systems for the homeless and the recently housed. The results of this endeavor are of course yet to be seen, but there’s reason to be optimistic about the prospects for corporate charity to fight the problem.

Destination: Home’s plan is the kind of solution that’s worked in other regions, so Cisco’s gift represents a promising step towards real change for those suffering in Santa Clara. With results still pending but reasonably optimistic, it’s worth our time to take a look at the advantages of corporate philanthropy when it comes to ending the homeless problem in NYC and across the nation.

Competition

One factor that doesn’t come into play with public funding is competition, namely as a force to streamline and make processes as efficient as possible. Government is essentially a monopoly in the services they provide, with red tape and bureaucracy frequently getting in the way of real change. It’s no secret that business leaders are highly competitive and their philanthropic efforts aren’t immune from that impulse. There’s even a proven link between competitiveness in philanthropy and an improvement in business outcomes, so if the promise of helping others isn’t enough, the opportunity to improve their own bottom line can be a factor as well. It might not match up with earnest messaging about improving the world, but as long as this philanthropy is helping those in desperate need, intent shouldn’t be a negating factor.

Expertise

Even more so than government programs, which often need to hire out experts or outsource solutions, corporate donors can offer up their expertise or services to create thoughtful responses to the challenge. For example, data firms can contribute their cutting-edge analysis software to help assess the effectiveness of new programs and help cities or nonprofits develop better ones. Corporate giants with a delivery infrastructure can make use of it to distribute materials and aid packages. For those who think creatively to solve business problems, surely those same minds, abetted by their substantial financial resources, can be redirected towards solving public health issues.

Motivation

As touched on earlier, the self-interest of corporate firms doesn’t have to be opposed to the interest of the public at large when it comes to fighting homelessness. It might seem déclassé to say out loud, but in an age when anti-corporate sentiment is high, a thoughtful approach to fighting a real humanitarian problem like homelessness can be a boon to PR efforts. Whatever their motivations, pragmatically speaking any effort to help this endemic issue should be welcomed, especially here in New York City as our homeless situation worsens even while the city grows richer.

 

So, can corporate philanthropy truly put an end to homelessness? The jury is still out and likely will be for some time. But from now until this problem is completely eradicated, any well-planned attempt is worth applauding. Sometimes a novel approach is needed to fix a problem, and other times a well-funded one is what gets the job done. When the corporate sphere throws in to help end homelessness, we’re getting both.

Erasing Mistakes Means Doing Your Homework

The business world can be a treacherous place, teeming with potential slip-ups and pitfalls. While there are plenty of ways we can mitigate and lower risk, the complete elimination of such danger simply isn’t possible. Every entrepreneur has to have some appetite for risk, and that means falling short is part of the experience. Even those we regard as the highest achievers in history have a blemish or two on their resume. Like the proverb says: to err is human. The only way to let a mistake define you is to fail to learn from it.

Maybe you can get away with ignoring some mistakes like they never happened, but if you’re serious about improving your business, you shouldn’t. They’re the best way to learn. Sure, your first instinct is probably to get as far away from your shortcoming as possible, but when you do that you deprive yourself of a great opportunity. Facing your mistake head on not only helps you to avoid repeating it, but cements it into your mind so when the next opportunity comes, you’ll see it coming from far away.

Too often I hear young business people being told to “forget their mistakes,” “suck it up and move on,” “don’t worry about it,” and the like. What they really need to hear is the opposite. Keep your failures close at hand. Remembering and holding onto them can end up a highly productive move, a healthy method towards recovery and better days. Mistakes can sink you if you let them. Your response, handled correctly, is what will keep you and your business afloat for the future.

This means not just confronting your mistake, but getting inside of the how and why of the entire situation that enabled it. Self-examination is incredibly important at all times, but no more so than when you need to take a long look at just what went wrong. Rather than following an instinct to avoid blame, acceptance along with introspection will be your most useful tools to growing in the aftermath.

Confronting a mistake means understanding its context. Most missteps, both in and out of a business setting, don’t happen in a vacuum. There may have been incorrect attitudes that led to a poorly thought-out decision. Perhaps the necessary communication didn’t happen. You may have simply been unprepared for a change or development that ended up hitting harder than expected. There’s no shame in looking at where you need to improve. Shame should be reserved for when you repeat mistakes that should have been easily avoided, with a little homework.

Often the most painful part isn’t the slipup itself, its the imagined damage to your reputation that comes from it. It’s all well and good to say “everyone makes mistakes,” but don’t try saying that to a client you let down. Here’s where the self-examination pays off. When you’re planning your next move, think of it as an opportunity to erase that mistake, and to build a wall between the you that goofed up, and the you that’s ready, thanks to intelligent introspection, to take on the next challenge.

Knowing that a mistake isn’t the end of your career is a powerful piece of knowledge, but usually it’s one that can only be gained through experience. Even if you hear it, it sure doesn’t feel real when you’re living out the pain of having made a big blunder. Just know this: truly being a failure is a choice you make through inaction. That mistake is only the end if you decide that it is.

This was originally published on ScoreNYC

What Condoms Can Teach Us About Sustainability

Lessons in running an eco-smart business can sometimes come from unexpected places.

Sustainability has gone from a fringe concern to a key factor in countless successful businesses in under a decade. It can be seen in everything, from finance and consumer goods, to education and transportation — not to mention condoms.

Yes, condoms.

Jeffrey and Meika Hollender are the father-daughter team who founded Sustain Natural, a nontoxic, eco-friendly vegan condom line, in 2013. As Meika Hollender told the New York Times last year — and as Jeffrey Hollender wrote for the Stanford Social Innovation Review in 2015 — the latex in Sustain condoms is produced at a Fair Trade rubber plantation in India, and produced at a solar-powered factory. Most significantly, the condoms do not contain nitrosamines, which are found in many popular brands and have been tabbed as a possible carcinogen.

“Everyone is thinking about the ingredients in their food and their makeup,” Meika Hollender told the Times. “But no one is thinking about the ingredients that go in the products they put in the most intimate parts of our body.”

The advent of Sustain is in keeping with Jeffrey Hollender’s efforts at sustainability; he also founded Seventh Generation, which produces green cleaning products, baby diapers and laundry detergent.

It is also in keeping with a more widespread trend that has seen major players take stock of how their practices affect the outside world. In adapting to this global practice, the companies that are able to accommodate a more conscientious view are seeing the benefits. When it comes to being sustainable, one thing is for certain: it’s not just for niche businesses anymore.

According to the 2016 State of Sustainable Business Survey — which included responses from 300 business leaders and 152 global companies — 49 percent of the respondents indicated that sustainability is among their CEO’s top five priorities, up from 35 percent a year earlier. The survey further revealed that sustainability is at least fairly well-integrated in nearly 70 percent of companies, and 72 percent of the respondents indicated that the concept is a prominent part of the company’s stated purpose.

Faisal Hoque, the founder of a business-management company known as Shadoka, has long advocated for sustainability, going so far as to quote management guru Peter Drucker: “Indeed the modern organization was expressly created to have results on the outside, that is, to make a difference in its society or its economy.”

Hoque also outlined seven fundamentals of sustainable business growth:

  1. Authentic purpose
  2. A powerful brand
  3. Partnership and collaboration
  4. Customer retention
  5. Community
  6. Repeatable sales
  7. Flexible, adaptive leadership

Jeffrey Hollender noted in his piece for the Stanford Social Innovation Review that companies can, and should, strive to be net positive, a concept succinctly explained byThe Guardian: Businesses have positive and negative impacts on the environment and society. For a company to be net positive, the latter need to greater than the former. Or, as the Guardian further explained: “The natural world and society should be better off with companies than without them … or so the theory says.”

Jeffrey Hollender believes he has achieved that with Sustain. Besides being nitrosamine-free, his condoms are low in proteins that cause allergies and packaged in recycled materials. They are also produced in a factory, that in addition to being solar-powered, meets standards for waste reduction, water collection and energy savings, and one in which employees are paid three times the minimum wage.

Further, Sustain donates 10 percent of its profits to women’s reproductive healthcare. It is employee- and female-owned, and its goal, Jeffrey Hollender writes, is empowering women — altering the negative attitudes and impacting the cultural restraints that result in what he described as “dangerously low levels of condom use among young American women.”

Jeffrey Hollender cited BT, a telecommunications giant based in the United Kingdom, as another company that has embraced sustainability. BT has set as its goal the reduction of carbon emissions by at least three times the company’s current footprint by 2020.

Another European company, a home-improvement outfit known as Kingfisher, has four big goals, coupled with 12 major targets, all of them centered on saving energy and money while reducing environmental harm. The goal is to achieve all of them no later than 2025.

Then there is IKEA, the furniture retailer. Among its many initiatives, it is striving toward 100 percent renewable energy, as well as the sourcing of all its wood from more sustainable sources by 2020. According to the company’s website, its various commitments have resulted in $1 billion in climate action.

Not only is it possible in this day and age to have a sustainable company, it is also increasingly a necessity.

This article was originally published on Entrepreneur

NYC Is Spending $1.2 Billion On Homelessness. So Why Is It Getting Worse?

This post was originally featured on HuffingtonPost.com

It’s a little-known fact that the City of New York is legally obliged to provide housing for those without it, but with the explosion in the city’s homeless population, you’d be forgiven for not knowing that.

The number of people staying in shelters in New York City has grown by over 10,000 since Mayor de Blasio took office to more than 60,000, with no relief in sight. There is no official estimate for those who are not in shelters, but needless to say the total number of homeless in the city is a great deal higher. After committing to a record $1.6 billion in spending to fight the problem, the city has seen no reduction in the number of people forced onto our streets. Needless to say, there is no shortage of disturbing facts about this issue, but a look at our city streets is all one needs to realize it’s getting worse. What’s absolutely clear by now is that it’s not simply a matter of money. How could the problem be getting worse when our Mayor has made such a public stance against it?

One reason for the growth in the homeless population is also a fundamental source of consternation for most New Yorkers over the past decade or so. It’s no secret that, nationwide, housing affordability is a major issue, and New York City is home to some of the most egregious examples of this. As neighborhoods transform, housing costs go up and many working-class residents end up being priced out to make room for new arrivals. As you go down the earnings line, those at the bottom too often end up homeless after losing their jobs, sometimes even while they are still working. As much as affordable housing is a political bargaining chip, there is still not nearly enough of it to satisfy the needs of lower-income New Yorkers.

The buck doesn’t stop at City Hall, either. Decision-makers in Albany have made their own contributions to the crisis, depriving vital programs of funding. A proposed complex of affordable apartments in Sunnyside, Queens was scuttled by Governor Cuomo, invoking his authority over the MTA, which owned the land. Even going back to Mayor Bloomberg, his cancellation of the Advantage program which provided homeless with housing vouchers was disposed of for claimed reasons that the system was being abused. Today, fewer programs are giving the homeless the help they need.

The programs that do exist are often woefully inadequate. The overcrowded shelter system, the main infrastructural source of help for the homeless, has long been an insufficient source of support for people in need, especially families. Many users of the system have described it as a claustrophobic, prison-like environment where violence is an entirely too common sight. New York Daily News research found that in 2015, there were over 1,500 “critical incidents” of violence and ill behavior in city shelters, more than five per day. It’s no wonder that many choose to take their chances on the street rather than be locked in with a potentially dangerous population. Staying on the street is often a rational choice to be made over taking on the deteriorating conditions in the shelters.

Another inadequate option is what’s called “cluster housing,” where the city rents apartments in low-income neighborhoods for homeless families. Instead of having access to a support system, these families are instead placed at the mercy of landlords who are, in general, not attuned to the needs of their new tenants and are simply collecting checks from the city. The danger of these sites was thrown into the spotlight last December with the tragic story of two sisters under the age of 3 killed by a faulty radiator in a cluster apartment in the Bronx. Hotel placement has been similarly dispiriting, with conditions that are not much better. To his credit, Mayor de Blasio has vowed to shut down these cluster sites, but progress is slow.

A particularly unfortunate aspect of this crisis has been the lack of empathy not just from political leaders, but the population at large. Anger over housing for the homeless has erupted in several neighborhood protests of proposed housing for the homeless, with demonstrations in Maspeth, Queens shutting down a shelter that would have housed up to 220 people. These demonstrators frequently argue that new shelters are merely a bandaid for the problem, but a main opposition seems to be a simple desire for their neighborhood to stay the way it is.

All of us share in the responsibility to help those who need it. It’s clear that a serious problem exists, with no clear solution. What we can all do is maintain awareness and make a commitment to advocate and provide assistance for the unfortunate who live in our city’s streets. Not everyone needs to spend a few cold nights on the street in order for the city to possess some empathy for the less fortunate. We’re all New Yorkers, and we all deserve the dignity and compassion that’s been lacking for so many.