Judge Imposes Partial Restraining Order on Relocated City Homeless Shelter

The Alexander on 94th Street.

By Carol Tannenhauser

After winning the support of Community Board 7 earlier this month, opponents of the new homeless shelter being opened on West 94th Street between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive, have taken their challenge to court.

On Wednesday morning, Neighborhood in the 90s, a local advocacy group, and four permanent tenants of The Alexander, the SRO that will house the new shelter, filed for a temporary restraining order to prevent the shelter from opening.

Judge Verna Saunders, of the Supreme Court, New York County, came back with a mixed decision, according to Stewart Wurtzel, attorney for the plaintiffs.

“Part of the restraining order we were seeking was granted; part of it was denied,” Wurtzel said, in a telephone interview. “Basically, the judge is allowing the shelter residents to start coming in as soon as they get clearance from the State, but they are limiting the number, at this point, to either 100 residents or a maximum of 50 units, which is below the 220 residents that the City is requesting. The judge also included protections for the current tenants of The Alexander. “They’ll be no evictions or otherwise interfering with their rights of occupancy,” Wurtzel said.

A City spokesperson called the protections a reiteration of steps the City has already taken to assure the tenants that their homes are safe, including direct contacts and multiple letters. The City views the ruling as favorable, allowing them to begin moving people into the shelter incrementally, while simultaneously closing the troubled Freedom House shelter on West 95th street, between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive.

Aaron Biller, president of Neighborhood in the 90s, contends that the most difficult clients left in Freedom House will be moved to 94th Street. The block is already home to a permanent supportive SRO for formerly homeless people; and a Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) emergency shelter for people who lose their homes because of fires and other dire circumstances.

“Call them what you will,” Wurtzel said. “Our view is that they’re shelters and they violate ‘fair share’ (a provision in the NYC Charter that requires the City to avoid the unequal siting of public facilities). Three shelters on a single block is undue concentration, as a matter of law,” Wurtzel said.

The Alexander is slated to house 110 “single adult families,” which the City defines as “families comprised of individuals over the age of 18, including, for example: a young couple trying to make ends meet; an elderly couple who cannot afford rent after decades living in New York City; a young person supporting an aging parent; and/or an older parent supporting an older child who may have physical or developmental challenges.”

The parties are due back in court on January 29, 2019. “Our motion to preliminarily enjoin the opening of the shelter while the merits of our claims are litigated will be argued before the Court,” Wurtzel said.

NEWS, REAL ESTATE | 8 comments | permalink
    1. anonymousUWSer says:

      I live next door to Freedom House; my window faces it. I’m not sure what’s going on there tonight, but several of the residents have been screaming at each other and throwing stuff out the windows — not an unusual occurrence, but more so than usual. I am assuming this means the shelter will not close while this issue is pending.

      I do not want to see the residents freeze to death in the streets. I appreciate they need shelter, and I believe that our government should help people who need help. But I admit I’m pretty unhappy about this horribly run shelter continuing to operate (possibly with even less supervision than previously, since the operators may feel they have nothing to lose). Surely, surely, we can do better than Freedom House. It is a misery to live next door to it. My biggest fear is that the result of this lawsuit will be that Freedom House continues, as bad or worse than ever.

      • Anonymous UWSer says:

        It’s past midnight, and once again, music is blaring out the shelter windows. I have spent the last two months thinking that at last, after six years, I could get an unbroken night of sleep when the shelter closed. This day has been marked on my calendar since October. I am so frustrated.

      • UWS Guy says:

        Maybe Freedom house isn’t the problem? Maybe it is the homeless who are living there?

    2. Scott says:

      Closing Camp LaGuardia, worst decision ever.

    3. Chrigid says:

      Freedom House needs to be put under new, accountable management–unless, of course, this is another typical UWS real estate deal where there’s a windfall for the current owner and a new luxury building for the future owner.

    4. Long time resident says:

      I have been a resident of 95th street for 20 year’s living next door to the freedom house. I’ve watched the community change and evolve. I have know idea how allowing The freedom House to occupy this block accross from a school seems like a good idea? I hear loud music and fighting at all hours. I had a man follow me down the block and threatened me with a knife that he pulled out of his pants. There are more suitable places for a shelter. This has destroyed this residential block.

    5. Rob G. says:

      One hundred more homeless people shipped in from other neighborhoods is one hundred too many. The abuse that the northern Upper West Side keeps taking at the hands of the city is shameful.

      It’s time to reduce the number of shelters, not play this game of Musical Shelter Operators. We need to make Gale Brewer and Helen Rosenthal understand that this is no longer acceptable.

      Thank you Aaron Biller for standing up for your neighborhood.