Tired of impassioned letters and speeches that fall on deaf ears, a crowd of 100 or so people at a Community Board 7 meeting on Tuesday night called for more aggressive action to remove two homeless shelters from buildings on West 95th Street. The shelters were opened in the middle of the summer without community review under the city’s emergency power to install housing for the city’s growing homeless population.
PS 75, a block away from the shelters at 316 and 330 West 95th Street, is set to open this week, and one mother expressed her worries: “It feels like a real bomb landing on our heads. It’s not nice to put this in front of a public school. Are there sex offenders [in the shelter]?”
Last month the shelters were placed in the two buildings on 95th, which were being used as SRO’s, housing low-income people who are willing to share bathrooms and kitchens. Seventy-one of the units are still occupied by SRO residents. Up to 200 homeless families were approved to move into the buildings. One resident of nearby SRO “The St. Louis” said that introducing transient residents poses dangers to permanent SRO residents. He was worried about being a victim of violence just because he is poor and chooses to live in an SRO: “We live with these fears.”
The West 90’s are notorious for having a lot of supportive housing — thousands of people in the shelter system and other city programs now live in the area, and many locals are fed up. In fact, numerous people at the meeting demanded that elected officials take a stronger stance on the shelters — perhaps even filing a lawsuit against the city or other actors to determine whether the city’s decades-long homeless “emergency” allows for homeless shelters to continually be opened without review.
Residents also said that it’s clear that many neighborhoods aren’t accepting their “fair share” of supportive housing, even as the mid-90’s have absorbed thousands of residents in public programs.
“We need to challenge the city on the very notion of what is an emergency,” said Aaron Biller (right), who heads activist group Neighborhood in the Nineties. “They’ve been planning [this shelter] for six months. This entire thing is a farce.”
Biller also turned his ire on elected officials like City Councilwoman Gale Brewer, criticizing a law passed a couple of years ago that she championed to stop SROs like the one where the shelters were placed from housing tourists. (Brewer and Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal have both been criticized by our commenters for supporting the law to close the hotels. Without the income from the tourists, some landlords see homeless shelters that pay about $3,300 per unit per month as a good alternative.).
Said local dad Meyer Muschel: “[Local elected officials] should have seen this coming like a freight train.”
Brewer reiterated at the meeting that she doesn’t think the SROs should be used for “transitional housing” like hotel rooms.
With the Department of Homeless Services unwilling to accede to the community’s demands, Biller said Brewer and other elected officials need to push the issue, and possibly go to court.
“If you really stand against this go to court file a lawsuit on behalf of the community, which is overwhelmed and being turned into an open air asylum.”
(What exactly that suit might look like was unclear, though Community Board representative Jay Adolf agreed that a suit was necessary)
Other concerns raised at the meeting included:
- One resident said he’d seen condoms and drug use outside the shelters.
- The company running the shelter, Housing Solutions USA, is run by former Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Robert Hess, which raises various conflicts. One official called the operator “a notorious bad actor.”
- It’s not clear if there are services for people with psychiatric problems.
- Various people said they were worried for their children, who walk around that area on their way to Riverside Park or attend school nearby.
- The buildings themselves are falling apart.
- Security that initially guarded the shelter has disappeared.
- Local police precincts are already overburdened.
- SRO residents often have to get up early, and loud people in the shelters disturb their sleep, Brewer said.
- One resident of the SRO said that he was given virtually no notice of the move-in and there were no personnel coordinating intake.
It was odd that no one from the Department of Homeless Services showed up. They could have answered a lot of questions. Although, given their track record on this issue so far, maybe it’s not that odd.
In the end, the Community Board passed a resolution by a vote of 40-0 opposing the use of the buildings as shelters. We’ve posted photos of the resolution below and will update once we get the pdf’s. Click to enlarge. Will the resolution do anything? Let us know in the comments!