Community Board Says No to 94th Street Shelter, Questioning Council Member’s Support

By Carol Tannenhauser

On Tuesday evening, Community Board 7 passed a formal resolution against siting a NYC homeless shelter in The Alexander, a Single Room Occupancy (SRO) building on West 94th Street, between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive. The new shelter would replace the notorious Freedom House shelter on West 95th Street, between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive, which is being closed.

“We will send the resolution to the Department of Homeless Services with copies to the local elected officials,” explained Roberta Semer, chair of the Board.

The action followed an outpouring of community opposition to the shelter plan, with no one speaking in its favor. Council Member Helen Rosenthal, who has expressed approval of the plan, was not present to explain her position, prompting one council member to say, “I’d like to know why Helen supports it.”

Many neighborhood residents who attended the meeting, which was held at Mount Sinai West, ceded their one-minute speaking allotment to Aaron Biller, president of the advocacy group Neighborhood in the 90s, who reiterated the reasons for the community’s opposition. Some speakers distanced themselves from Biller, indicating they were speaking for themselves. Regardless, the sentiments were consistent.

“The very rushed, secretive way this plan was hatched makes the case for Community Board hearings and review more compelling,” Biller said.

He also cited the dangers of the building itself, pointing out that the owner of The Alexander, Alexander Scharf, had also owned The Esplanade, a senior residence at 305 West End Avenue, when a piece of the facade fell off, killing a toddler in 2016. Scharf was indicted for violating the NYC building code.

One woman, speaking for herself, questioned why the city would do business with Scharf.

Biller also discussed the challenges a shelter would pose to the block, which already has an SRO building that was converted into permanent supportive housing for formerly homeless and/or mentally ill individuals, and an HPD shelter in an SRO next door to The Alexander, for people displaced from their homes by fires and other catastrophes.

At the core of Biller’s arguments is the question of “equity.”

“This crazy back-room deal was created to open a shelter on a block that already does its fair share,” he said.

Rosenthal sent a statement to West Side Rag, noting that the new shelter will mean no net increase in shelter residents. And she disputed the notion that the block cannot handle the shelter. “There are NO other shelters on this block of W. 94th and the Red Cross does NOT have any emergency beds in any of the buildings on this block,” she said. “This block does have a building which provides permanent, supportive housing called Rustin House. Supportive housing is NOT a homeless shelter. Supportive housing is permanent, affordable housing which offers a range of in-house services for residents.”

In the statement, Rosenthal also explained why she thinks the new location and operator can help solve some of the problems with the current shelter.

Freedom House on W. 95th Street was poorly run – it did not serve shelter residents well, and was detrimental to the overall block.

Issues of concern consistently brought up at the Freedom House Community Advisory Board (CAB) meetings:
1.) Security issues which impacted the entire block;
2.) A lack of transparency between shelter management and residents, as well as between the shelter and the community;
3.) Complete lack of services for homeless residents to address their needs;
4.) No indoor space for programming or resident socializing, which forced residents to socialize outside.

The shelter at 300 W. 94th will address these 4 main issues heard from the community with:
1.) A new operator that has a proven track record of providing more accountability and more successful outcomes for its residents;
2.) Indoor community space for socializing, and indoor space for social services, job assistance, and other programming;
3.) Social services and other types of programming provided on-site by the new operator;
4.) In-house security, provided by the new operator, to immediately address issues inside and outside of the building.

There has been no discussion about placing another homeless shelter at the W. 95th Street building. I support returning the current Freedom House building back to permanent affordable housing.

NEWS, REAL ESTATE | 44 comments | permalink
    1. jezbel says:

      Take a look at our streets here on UWS. Then go across town and take a look at their streets on the UES. There’s a big difference. We have people wandering, panhandling, talking to themselves, in various states of delusion or paranoia. On the East Side you don’t see it. Whether or not there are homeless shelters there – I don’t know. I just know that our neighborhood has become just as it was when Needle Park was still in operation as a place for homeless, junkies and danger. It’s a scary place here again, unpleasant in the subways, afraid for the young and the very old to walk down the street as dusk. Don’t bring all the homeless in the City to one dumping ground. Either make permanent locations in less densely populated parts of the City or spread them around evenly. Please.

      • Christine E says:

        I totally agree and was shocked at the statement about how the shelter is not “too much” for the block, since the other vulnerable-population buildings on the block are not shelters. As if every block should be required to have a shelter?!? This block already has more than its fair share of public housing in various forms. As do many UWS streets.

        I would be very interested in seeing an UWS vs UES comparison (can expand to more neighborhoods later) that considers ALL types of vulnerable-population public-assisted housing. Helen is comparing apples and oranges, but from the perspective of residents who actually live on the UWS, it’s all fruit. We should strive to have balanced meals and balanced neighborhoods.

      • Sean says:

        Don’t worry your neighborhood is becoming just as wealthy as the UES. When all the smallish rent stabilized apartments empty out and the buildings are replaced by luxury apartments, you’ll have to move on.

    2. Matilda says:

      Sadly, – and without warning – Helen Rosenthal dissolved the much needed Community Advisory Board for Rustin House – the “supportive” facility on 94th Street which has many ongoing problems. This does not bode well for the accountability or stability of future shelters/housing in the area. Tens of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money is used by the Lantern Group which owns and runs Rustin House- what is really happening here?

    3. Sherman says:

      Helen Rosenthal did not show up at this meeting because she knew she would face (deservably so) fierce criticism and condemnation for her homeless shelter plan.

      It reminds me of her deafening silence over the wildly unpopular plans to change the demographics of PS
      199.

      A real leader takes a position and defends it.

      Helen Rosenthal is not a leader. She is a coward.

      • Bertrand says:

        Re: Helen Rosenthal did not show up at this meeting because she knew she would face (deservably so) fierce criticism and condemnation for her homeless shelter plan.

        Sounds like meeting contained one-sided fearful rhetoric and could have used a rational minded defender of the shelter move; But Helen’s position statement reasonably explained the status quo move of the facility to a better cite a block away. Very misleading to characterize her response as a controversial position, that she lacks the leadership to defend.

    4. dannyboy says:

      Biller brims with compassion.

      I can see why “many neighborhood residents who attended the meeting, which was held at Mount Sinai West, ceded their one-minute speaking allotment to Aaron Biller”.

      • Bertrand says:

        Re:”Biller brims with compassion.”

        Sarcasm or doublespeak, I honestly can’t tell. Fear portrayed as compassion? Briller and his supporters are against the shelter residents moving A BLOCK AWAY to a more suitable cite. Wouldn’t the opposing position be called the more compassionate?

        • dannyboy says:

          Sarcasm.

          I don’t understand why moving to a better building with better services is a bad thing.

          But then again, I believe that people with substantial means are in the best position to help those without.

    5. Pedestrian says:

      Hellen should have the guts to appear at public meetings wherein her opinion is not in the majority. One has to wonder if she is afraid to explain her position in face to face meetings with constituients.

    6. David says:

      How about putting the proposed shelter on Helen Rosenthal’s block?? Let’s see how enthusiastic she will be about it THEN!

      • Che says:

        If she moved into the West 90s along with another, failed homeless shelter, subsequent disasters could provide her with lots of photo ops.

        The plentiful, infamous shelters on those few blocks can’t have been helpful to the homeless inside them if the surrounding area got plagued by murder, vandalism, the whole spectrum of street violence as a result. Only the DHS contractors profited from them.

        Helen made a show of caring about that neighborhood’s abominable fair share status, once. It seems only a show now.

      • Bertrand says:

        Re:How about putting the proposed shelter on Helen Rosenthal’s block?? Let’s see how enthusiastic she will be about it THEN!

        The CIty’s plan is for 90 new shelters around the city – even on Billionaires Row West 58th ST – also facing NIMBY opposition.

        In most instances, the neighborhoods will have a net gain of shelters and residents, but in this case, the facility is moving one block away and with improved services. Although its an appealing idea – if all new shelters had to be built adjacent to the homes of politicians in favor of adding the new shelter – unfortunately, it would be an insurmountable obstacle toward making a dent in homelessness.

        At least with the additional geographically-dispersed housing, the pressure of abating the homeless crises will be spread more than it ever has.

    7. Anonymous UWSer says:

      If the shelter does NOT move to W.94th street, will the W.95th street shelter remain open? Those people must go somewhere, I assume. Where they are now is a worst-case scenario for them and for the neighborhood (terrible security, no services, no indoor area to socialize) and it’s part of why the shelter is such a problem. I agree the neighborhood has more than its fair share of shelters, but if we’re going to have the shelter within the same block regardless, it might as well be a better shelter. I’m just afraid a successful protest means the current terrible shelter remains, which would be bad both for the people in the shelter and the neighborhood.

      • Scott says:

        “These people must go somewhere”

        Well I’ve said this many times, but the city can place the homeless anywhere in NY State, from Buffalo to Montauk. There’s plenty of cheap housing in Buffalo, Syracuse and Rochester. Maybe what some of these folks need is a fresh start somewhere else, to get them away from their “friends.”

        Callahan v. Carey says nothing about housing people in the 5 boros, never mind Manhattan. Of course, someone’s getting paid here. Scharf seems like a typical well-connected guy. Homelessness is very good business in NYC. Compassion has nothing to do with it.

      • Aaron Biller says:

        Keeping the shelter on 95th Street is not an option. Nor does it belong on 94th either. Both blocks already have other facilities.
        The fact is, the Upper West Side has 1,000+ more homeless housed here than the community produces. What purpose is served by placing the homeless of Brooklyn in this expensive neighborhood? We must stay united, and not allow sleazy politicians with agendas to divide and conquer. When the 95th St. building is emptied it is only a matter of time before another “program” is placed there.

    8. Ellen zimmerman says:

      Why doesn’t Helen Rosenthal move to W 94 st from her facility free CPW block Let her walk a dog at night or return home late from work and get menaced and threatened People have been punched in the face also
      Placing facility residents in an expensive neighborhood creates more panhandling and crime You can’t even get to the stairs at the 94 St subway entrance and exit without being accosted what happened to those 90 shelters that were going to be distributed throughout the 5 boros Mr Mayor Let’s follow the money trail Someone is making a big bundle out of this disgrace

    9. Helen Has Got To Go says:

      Semantics Helen. Did the residents of Rustic house have a home prior to the city paying 3500 a month for each individual to live there? Sounds like they were homeless to me. While the two social service residences on the 94th street block may not fit your definition of homeless shelter, it certainly passes the common sense test. We do not want another social project on our block. We don’t want Freedom house on 95th either!Enough is enough.

    10. Steve says:

      It was no accident that Helen Rosenthal was not present at the CB7 meeting. Gerald Nadler took the time to speak briefly, and eloquently about the situation in Washington DC, yet Ms. Rosenthal could not spare the time to address a major issue important to her constituents.

      • uwsguy says:

        She will not be at the next meeting either as her office holiday party coincides on the day of the next meeting (19th). The holiday party was announced at the recent CB7 meeting.

    11. UWSJoe says:

      I’ll second what jezbel wrote above… The Upper West Side now looks like a zombie apocalypse! Junkies and drifters wandering around at all hours. And the city wants us to have more!!??!!

      Was the poor woman who was assaulted by a “resident” of the SRO on 83rd street this summer not enough for Rosenthal and her leftist idiots?! What will satisfy their bloodlust? Is rape in the streets not good enough for you?

      Hey Linda do us a favor start working on not having the banks robbed on a near daily basis on 96th street before you start recruiting more criminals to live in our neighborhood.

      • UWSJoe says:

        Correction: Helen not Linda… it’s hard to keep track of which Rosenthal is ruining the place.

      • Paul says:

        Interestingly, data shows that coop and condo units on the East Side are frequently selling at 10 – 20% below ask, while prices on the West Side are pretty stable.

        So “zombie apocalypse!” sounds a bit premature.

      • Bertrand says:

        “Violent crime in New York City has been dropping since 1991[1] and, as of 2017, is among the lowest of major cities in the United States. In 2017, there were 290 homicides, the lowest number since the 1940s.[2]” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crime_in_New_York_City

        There always will be a level of crime in any major city, but NYC crime is historically low and compares favorably any major American city today, in part because of robust services that help people in despair, who in desperation might otherwise resort to criminal acts. Although its tough to argue with those living closest to the shelters – some having negative experiences – well-run homeless services are far and away a net gain for the community.

    12. Che says:

      It Helen moved to the West 90s along with another, failed homeless shelter, the ensuing disasters could provide her with lots of photo ops.

      The homeless who lived in those infamous shelters can’t have benefited from them if the surrounding area suffered ongoing street violence- murder (of innocent bystanders), vandalism (chainsaw removal of planted trees), and the whole spectrum of street violence. Only DHS contractor’s benefited.

      Helen made a show of caring about the neighborhood’s abominable fair share status. It was only a show.

    13. Chrigid says:

      Put Freedom House in the hands of a competent operator.

    14. Reed says:

      The residents below the West 100s seem have more clout than the people of Manhattan Valley. CB 7 always supports the steering of supportive housing and shelters in Manhattan Valley….which is a Federal designated impoverished area. It is evident that intentional economic steering is an informal policy of CB 7 and many of our political representatives. Councilwoman Rosenthal is to be praised and supported for her support of this shelter……it is time that supportive and low-income housing as well as shelters be equally distributed within CB 7 and not just within Manhattan Valley

      • uwsguy says:

        Have you read the complaint? This would be the THIRD such establishment on 94th street between Riverside and West End….

    15. Erica says:

      I would like to think that what my neighbors really mean is that they wholeheartedly support helping homeless people, but want to make sure the proper services and staff are put in to maintaining the building and helping them with social services.

    16. ST says:

      Helen has done zero to help our community and quite a lot to hurt it. I can’t wait for her term to end.

    17. Christine E says:

      The city pays high rates to rent rooms in expensive neighborhoods. The city then increases taxes to cover the costs. Landlords then raise rents to cover the tax increase. Tenants can’t afford the higher rent and move out or close up shop. Storefronts sit vacant and market-rate apartments become unaffordable. How is this cycle of fiscal imprudence and economic mis-management benefiting our city? Let the city prove that their shelter distribution plan is fiscally prudent. Why is that not part of the review/approval process?

    18. peddleyourstuff says:

      So, apart from kowtowing to a loud NIMBY-ite, the Community Board proposes what…exactly?
      Keeping the dumping ground that Freedom House is, a plague on its own house and on its neighbors?
      Or were all those hands raised in a gesture to sweep “those people” completely out of the community, out of sight, out of mind, and certainly off any block where your ever-escalating property values might take a hit?
      I take it that, as far as Mr. Biller and the Community Board are concerned, any proposition to Do Unto Others only counts if those Others are as deep-pocketed, highly functioning and fortunate as oneself.
      If your only solution is to push “them” out of “such an expensive neighborhood”, I would suggest you are part of the problem.

      • tailfins says:

        Not sure what you’re saying here. Do you believe that the people in the Freedom House are from the W90s? Do you believe that the W 90s has a responsibility to house people from all over the city or even state?

        Why is it the responsibility of the residents of the neighborhood to figure out an equitable plan? The issue is that the W 90s has been to generous in the past and now is being taken advantage of.

    19. Juan says:

      I agree that this area has more than its fair share of this type of housing. Those who deny that it is an issue have their heads in the sand.

      That being said, I do find it ironic that the most recent major incident in the area did not involve the residents of any of these facilities but was rather the murder in the fairly high end co-op at 710 WEA.

    20. Josh says:

      It’s disgusting how many of our neighbors treat the least among us. The city needs more housing. Community boards never provide positive change to the neighborhood. They exist simply to amplify the power of a loud minority to block needed facilities. Helen Rosenthal is right, she represents everyone in the neighborhood who voted for her. This community board represents nobody but the loud complainers who show up. Let democracy work. I support this program.

    21. GLORIA says:

      it took a little than thought…this city has turns into a cesspool under “Mayor” Lurch…just take your noses out of your phones and stop worrying about wi-fi signals and look around AND DONT FORGET TO VOTE FOR THE NEXT PROGRESSIVE LIBERAL WHO SPEWS THEIR LINE OF B.S.

    22. Adam Cherson says:

      Can’t the city spread the locations of these types of service/facilities around a little more evenly? Three on the same block seems unfair.

    23. Longtime Resident says:

      I hate that my neighborhood has become a dumping ground for the homeless and the socially dysfunctional. Panhandling, disturbing the peace, drug use, vandalism, and other crimes and quality of life issues now define what once was a safe and peaceful neighborhood.

    24. Billy B says:

      How much is the city paying per room at these “Shelters”?

    25. Lois says:

      Council Member Rosenthal is involved in many wonderful issues. However, she has taken her focus off of her district. It’s too bad, because she is very smart. There must be a compromise solution here. Perhaps the shelter could house a different population, i.e. elderly homeless people or homeless veterans. Even then, it is a lot for one block.

    26. Rob G. says:

      Shelters or supportive housing, call them what you want, but they are the same thing. Clustering such an enormous number of people with problems ranging from social and mental issues to drug and alcohol addictions was bound to be disastrous.

      The UWS has more than 20% of Manhattan’s supportive housing units, the majority above 86th Street. The resulting decline in safety and quality of life would be unacceptable in any other neighborhood.

      Helen Rosenthal’s about-face aside, hopefully the time has come for our community to feel empowered enough to finally reduce the shelter population and take back our streets.
      Ultimately this will help the remaining shelter residents get the support they need and bring some balance back into the neighborhood.