By Carol Tannenhauser

Freedom House, the homeless shelter at 316 West 95th Street, is getting a new operator, according to council member Helen Rosenthal and other sources. A change at the shelter, which has drawn criticism since it opened over community objections in 2012, is a potentially positive sign, according to community officials, activists, and other residents.

Charlie Valdez, 50, who lives next door, in permanent supportive housing for formerly homeless veterans, said the shelter does not seem to be well-run.

“Over there, there’s a lot of dope dealing, crack dealing, smoking, crime, stealing,” Valdez said. “I have friends who live there and that’s all they complain to me about every day. ‘The security guards don’t do their jobs.’”

In a message to neighbors, Aaron Biller, president of local group Neighborhood in the Nineties, wrote that there has been “open drug dealing, crime, mayhem, aggressive panhandling and noise in the West 90s neighborhood,” since the shelter opened. Rosenthal had arranged a meeting with city officials, police officers, community board leaders and others to hash out the concerns earlier this month.

Screen shot 2013-01-31 at 10.02.54 AM
Biller speaking out against the shelter at a community meeting a few years ago.

The current operator, Aguila, Inc. has been running the facility since it opened in 2012. After the shelter was initially opened on an “emergency basis” for six months, Aguila won a five-year, $47 million contract – a whopping $3,600 per unit per month. The company has been criticized for several problems in the past, including “unsubstantiated bills.” Aguila did not respond to a request for comment.

A spokesperson for the Department of Homeless Service wrote in an email that it was the landlord of 316 West 95th Street, RB ESTATES LLC, who decided to select a new provider. “We cannot speak to what motivated that decision, but as landlords and nonprofit service providers must work together at shelter sites to best serve our clients and the community, we will review any provider the landlord selects with the main goal of improving services for all,” the spokesperson wrote. Attempts to contact the owner were unsuccessful.

The decision comes after substantial community pressure from Rosenthal and others.

“Even before I was elected, I was aware that residents at Freedom House were not receiving the services that they needed to move on to permanent housing, and that the surrounding community had great concerns about the effectiveness of existing services,” Rosenthal wrote in an email to WSR. “Working together with the administration, we’ve made real progress on this issue and I will be closely monitoring Freedom House’s transition to a new social service provider until the process is complete.”

Rosenthal did not say when that would be, indicating it could take “months.” Biller wrote that while “Rosenthal has kept her word to push the City to fix Freedom House, the heavy lifting is ahead of us. Even with a new social services provider, it will take time to establish rules and an appropriate culture in the building.”

Any new provider must be reviewed and approved by the Department of Homeless Services, a DHS spokesperson said. According to Biller, the city is also “giving the community input in selecting a new provider, a major concession given the opacity of city homeless shelter operations.”

NEWS | 19 comments | permalink
    1. Resident on 95th says:

      There has been a marked increase in drug dealing and violence over the past 6 months (that I have witnessed first hand). This is particularly alarming given proximity to the public school across the street and the families living in the area. As a resident of 95th street, I do not have a problem with a homeless shelter on my street, but I do have issue with complete neglect from the landlord and operator. This homeless shelter is a scam. The story above basically indicates that nothing will happen for 6 months, and this is not acceptable.

      • Also on 95th says:

        I couldn’t agree more. The whole thing has never been more than just an opportunity for graft, and nobody involved has ever given a crap about the damage it’s done to the neighborhood. Even Rosenthal’s quote about the community having great concerns about the “effectiveness of existing services” seems intended to obfuscate the fact that what we’re concerned about is our safety and quality of life.

      • Lurker says:

        I also agree. I’ve lived in near West End and 94th for 3+ years. The neighborhood has always had a good number of transients and panhandlers due to (imo) the proximity to the 96th express stop. But in the past month or so, someone was robbed at gunpoint (reported on WSR), and I’ve noticed several drug deals.

        I hope the new management will make a positive difference because I don’t feel very safe in this neighborhood nowadays.

    2. Sherman says:

      I remember last year there were a series of articles in the WSR about the opening of this shelter for formerly homeless veterans.

      All the liberals were praising this shelter and gushing how wonderful it would be for the neighborhood and the veterans.

      I was practically alone among WSR commentators in warning it would be a disaster. I asked hard hitting questions about the shelter and it’s prospective residents but I was bashed for being heartless.

      My warnings turned out to be 100% correct and I’m glad I live twenty blocks away.

      • West Sider says:

        The veterans residence and the shelter are 2 completely different things, just FYI.

      • D-rannosaurus says:

        Poor reading comprehension – Check
        Now what was your point?

      • Steen says:

        Sherman, this article is not talking about the veteran’s shelter. It is a completely different one. Please read the article before commenting.

      • bmac says:

        Literally one of the people complaining about the shelter in question is one of the homeless veterans who is housed next door. Let’s try to keep this straight. Also, enjoy living a mile away. Might as well be in Westchester for all this should matter to you.

    3. Mel Stone says:

      Since the opening of this shelter the neighborhood has taken on a new complexion and unfortunately not for the better. Inappropriate materials left on the street and is shameful since an elementery school is steps away, but regardless it shouldn’t be. Many times leaving my apartment i’ve seen inappropriate behavior and been asked for money. Shameful what is happening to our lovely neighborhood. I never walk down 95th street to get to the park. Honestly, fearful.

    4. Thay are kids leave them alone being controled ecomicily.being homeless and living in a shelter is a inexpensive way to do group programing.

    5. Aaron Biller says:

      The observations by West 95th Street residents are accurate. But our neighbors do not report illegal and offensive behaviors. Thus, City officials will use the lack of 311 and 911 reports to pretend that the Freedom House shelter has no impact on community life.

      If you see something, and ignore it, you are an enabler.

      N90s, which represents a sizable part of the West 90s, can only do so much. If you attend a meeting where the police and HRA can say they won’t respond to “anecdotal evidence,” then we as residents must make the call, or go to and file a complaint. Too many people are literally being accosted at the bank, witnessing drug deals and other illegal behaviors, but doing nothing! If you see something, say something! It helps the neighborhood.

      • Independent says:

        Thank you for your efforts.

      • 123Train says:

        Aaron, we appreciate what is doing for us. This used to be a nicer community but the shelters have really messed it up. More beggars and crazies on the street than ever before. Who will listen to us? Can we ever reverse the trend?

      • WL says:

        As a resident of 95th street, I agree that this “shelter” has ruined our neighborhood, and unfortunately, we will be moving for our children’s safety. Not only have I reported several times the drug activity outside the shelter (one young lady is a constant offender), I called the police last week when there was a group of shelter residents outside the building as we walked by, and one pulled a knife on another about a foot from my 7-year-old daughter. The security guard just watched, and did nothing. I have empathy for families, and hard-working people who fall on bad times, but these long-term residents do not seem to have any impetus to do anything but leave trash, yell and scream, do drugs and basically terrorize 95th street. I question why so many young, 20 somethings are even in there. The veteran’s facility does not cause any problems. I do not think anything can change unless it is shut down completely. How is it one square block has THREE shelters/facilities on it legally. My rent is not cheap (but not $3600 – ridiculous) and I pay taxes, and am disgusted to have to support 316!!

    6. Scott says:

      $3600 a month per unit? For that money the city could ship these people out of the city and buy them a house in Upstate NY, rural Pennsylvania or 1000 other places.

      Do we even know if these people have long-term ties to this city? If not, why are we housing them?

      Homeless intervention isn’t a social policy, it’s big business. It’s a disgrace that certain well-connected landlords make out like bandits with these schemes. Wouldn’t be surprised if this mysterious RB Estates is a big contributors to Bill de Blasio and other local pols who love to lecture us on our compassion deficit.

      • Independent says:

        Hi Scott,

        1.) Excellent point about the economics of housing homeless in the City and how it would seem unnecessary to do so, given the far greater cost-effectiveness that a practically countless number of other locations would offer. I have thought of this myself and mentioned it here at some point in the past.

        2.) “Wouldn’t be surprised if this mysterious RB Estates is a [sic] big contributors to Bill de Blasio and other local pols who love to lecture us on our compassion deficit.”

        That would seem like poetic justice, i.e. if our esteemed Mayor’s public career were to become undone by revelations of that type. But would it really change anything? Our estimable commisars of Goodthought are quite adept at perpetuating The One True, Morally Correct, Respectable Narrative at all costs. Somehow, they seem to almost always find a way to not allow such petty irrelevancies like facts and overwhelming evidence against interest get in the way. Just look at how the “massive increase in ‘hate crimes’ since the election” claim continues to be pushed, even as it becomes increasingly discredited by the day, as one after another, the hyped incidents are exposed as hoaxes. See my comments here for elaboration and examples.

        From a number of other comments of yours that I’ve read (assuming that you are the same Scott), I suspect that you will not at all mind my counting you as a fellow “Deplorable” (as per H-R. Clinton’s infamous remark). While no doubt in the minority and largely in the shadows, I suspect that dissidents such as us account for a larger presence on the UWS than most realize or even care to acknowledge. The Silent Minority?

        • Scott says:

          Oh please, call me a deplorable, I wear it with pride 🙂

          I’m actually a little embarrassed by my own comment. Upon doing some basic digging, I saw the Freedom House is owned by Jay Podolsky, the czar of Homelessness Inc. in NYC. And yes, he’s given to De Blasio.

          I wish his name were better known to people. (Podolsky’s that is) He should be named and shamed. Has a bunch of homes, one a mansion in Westhampton. All on the backs of NYC taxpayers.

          Of course, we also have a court decision (Callahan) that needs to be reversed. NYC gets every other city’s problems. I don’t know why we put up with it.

    7. Paul RL says:

      Finding a new operator for this nightmare shelter is not enough. Freedom House has brought nothing but misery to the neighborhood and It’s time to close it for good.

    8. Independent says:

      Sometime over this past winter, one of the two large plant-receptacles that frame the entrance of a co-op building somewhat further north on West End Avenue was destroyed by one or more vandals (who I am all-but certain was/were at the time either intoxicated, mentally ill or both). (The second receptacle has since disappeared but I do not know what happened to it.) Would anyone know if there is a connection between this vandalism and any of the shelters or similar facilities in the vicinity? And also, whether the smashed receptacle was even the worse of the violence that was perpetrated at that ill-fated time, during the wee hours of the morning?