Residents at a new homeless shelter on 95th Street between West End and Riverside say apartments are infested with bed bugs, roaches and mice, and that the lack of cooking facilities forces them to eat out all the time. They told a reporter from the Associated Press that police are regularly entering the shelter to break up fights and people knock on their doors in the middle of the night looking for drugs.
Some local residents don’t let their kids walk alone in the area anymore, and others complain about an increase in panhandling and people peeing in doorways.
The Associated Press article about the shelter raises more questions about city oversight and whether the 95th Street location really makes sense for the shelter. We’ve written about the issue extensively, and covered a recent meeting about it here.
But the article also raises an issue that’s a little puzzling: It implies that the shelter is upsetting people because it’s in a “wealthy” neighborhood, where shelters haven’t been placed before.
“Bloomberg’s mini-shelter boom is increasingly bringing the controversy to the doorstep of traditionally wealthy neighborhoods where shelters aren’t as prevalent — and where residents are much more vocal in airing their grievances,” the article says. A blog post in the Village Voice expanded on that theme, charging that homelessness is suddenly “a problem for the haves in New York’s wealthier areas” and claiming that neighborhood is filed with “homeless-hating crusaders.”
But the 90′s is chock-full of social-support organizations and shelters; according to activist group “Neighborhood in the Nineties” the city houses more than 1,000 “special needs” residents in the 90′s and low-100′s. The new shelter isn’t a sudden invasion of poor people into an otherwise wealthy exclusionist neighborhood; it’s more of the same for an area that has taken on well more than its share of homeless and otherwise troubled residents in the past few decades. And the very buildings that were turned into a shelter were also used to house the homeless over loud community protests in 2006.
(It’s also a bit questionable to say the mid-90′s is “wealthy”. Look up stats for the school across the street from the shelter and you’ll see most of the kids qualify for free or reduced lunches.)
In fact, look at an article from almost 20 years ago (above) and it’s clear that homeless shelters aren’t a new phenomenon here.
“[S]mall business is no longer the dominant industry of the Upper West Side. Homelessness is,” Jeffrey Goldberg wrote in New York magazine in 1994. “Proof isn’t hard to find. In a single, one-mile square section of the Upper West Side — from 90th Street to 100th Street, Central Park to the river, there are now more than 80 city, state and privately-run social service facilities, and activists charge that as many as five new facilities are being opened each year.”
That era is mostly over. And yet, there are a lot of local residents who fear it could be creeping back.
People are upset about the shelter because they feel like this area has taken on more than it’s “fair share” of the city’s social service population. And the community hasn’t gotten any assurances about security at the building; it’s also not clear that the homeless people or remaining SRO residents there are safe (nearby SRO residents have spoken out about concerns for their safety). Some people also find it grating that the city is paying $3,300 per kitchen-less bathroom-less room. That’s why people are upset. It’s probably not because they’re “wealthy.”