In a deal announced Monday, local politicians and the Department of Homeless Services said they would cut the size of the homeless shelter on West 95th street near Riverside Drive in half, from 400 residents to 200.
The deal was negotiated by Comptroller Scott Stringer, Borough President Gale Brewer and the de Blasio administration. The 200 adult residents (there are no children at this shelter) are expected to be moved to other facilities, or transitioned out of the homeless system, by November 1. The full announcement is here.
Aguila, the nonprofit that operates the shelter, will get a five-year contract for the space, DHS spokeswoman Lisa Black told us. DHS was able to move families from another shelter into a better facility, freeing up space for residents from the 95th street shelter.
We’ve covered this controversial shelter since it was first installed in the summer of 2012, breaking the story that the city was planning to bus shelter residents in with scant notice to the community and no public hearing. The details that have emerged about the shelter since — landlords and a manager with a history of pushing out poor tenants, an operator with a history of “unsubstantiated bills”, a contract that pays out about $3,700 per room — alarmed the neighborhood. Nonetheless, Mayor Bloomberg dug in his heels and went to court to keep it open. As the homeless population soared to record highs and the city and state cut affordable housing subsidies, Bloomberg spent tens of millions of dollars to house homeless people in privately owned buildings like the one on 95th.
Mayor de Blasio appears to be taking a different approach, trying to add affordable housing and reduce the homeless population — “this deal indicates a willingness on the part of the Administration to re-evaluate its approach,” Stringer said. And DHS has been more responsive (they even call us back these days!); Black says they’re serious about involving the community.
But cutting the shelter in half and responding to concerns isn’t the same thing as removing it entirely, so opponents of the shelter say they will keep fighting to have it closed.
Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal says she still hopes to close the shelter eventually. In the meantime, she says she’ll work to make sure homeless residents are given proper attention. “I’m working closely with DHS to ensure they take responsibility for the residents in Freedom House and provide quality rooms, social and case work services, and help finding jobs for residents as well as security for their neighbors,” she said in a statement.
Neighborhood in the Nineties, a group that sued to stop the shelter, says it will still push to have the shelter closed too. It blames Aguila and the city for adding too many shelters to the Upper West Side and failing to care for the area or the people who live there.
“During the 18 months in which they have operated this shelter, the homeless have suffered, the legacy SRO tenants in the building have suffered, and the community has suffered from a rise in drug dealing and lawlessness.
“Nor has the city honored its Fair Share obligations by adding another facility in a generous and tolerant but oversaturated neighborhood with 17 city housing facilities within 18 blocks. The shelter must be closed entirely and returned to affordable housing for the working poor.
“Neighborhood in the Nineties is emboldened by the comptroller’s decision today and will now turn up the pressure on these homelessness profiteers.”
Black says DHS is satisfied with Aguila’s efforts on 95th street, and said the operators have in some cases gone above and beyond, even putting refrigerators in tenants’ rooms shortly after they arrived, which not all shelter operators do.