Elected Officials and Community Unite to Fight for Women’s Shelter

By Alex Israel

Despite rumors that resident relocation is imminent, elected officials and Community Board 7 are doing their best to reverse the decision by the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) to transition a local women’s shelter to a men’s shelter.

Elected officials were first notified on September 16 that a shelter in operation since 2010 at 237 West 107th Street would transition from housing women to men. At the time, neither a timeline nor a rationale were provided. Community Board 7’s Health and Human Services Committee met on September 24 to discuss the issue at the request of the informed elected officials. While DHS failed to attend the meeting, more than 70 shelter and neighborhood residents turned out to support the women.

A resolution from the committee requesting DHS put their plans on hold to first consult with the current residents—120 single women who are primarily “continuing their education” or “gainfully employed” in the community, and who had not been informed of the transition prior to CB7—passed unanimously during the full board meeting on Wednesday night. No one from DHS was in attendance.

Earlier that day, a public letter signed by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Congressman Jerry Nadler, Assembly Member Danny O’Donnell, Council Member Mark Levine, and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams called the issue to the attention of Steven Banks, Commissioner of the NYC Human Resources Administration (HRA).

“We write in opposition to the proposed changes to the resident population at the HELP-USA-run shelter,” reads the letter, which also rejected the proposed transition and questioned the lack of communication from DHS. “We take issue both with the process employed by your agency and, more pressingly, with the substance of the proposed change.” The letter concludes with a request to reconsider the proposed change, and to improve communications between the agency and elected representatives to avoid rumors and anxiety amongst the community.

City Council Member Mark Levine, whose district includes the shelter, showed up to Community Board 7’s full board meeting to share his support for the women in the shelter and reiterate his disdain for the process to date. “The lack of communication has been frankly unacceptable,” he said, lambasting DHS for refusing to give fair notice to the community or consult them at all on the decision.

Levine said that despite reports of half a dozen women being relocated since September 27, it is his understanding that the process will play out for as long as a month or two. “It’s not happening overnight,” he said, with hope that input from himself and other elected officials would help reverse the decision. “Women who have been relocated should be given the option to return,” he suggested as a solution to those already displaced. “This fight is a long way from over,” he said.

Kurt Pohmer, a representative from the West 107th Street Block Association, left a protest rally at the shelter to address to the community board on Wednesday night, also in support of the women. “Our community can say we have a successful shelter in this neighborhood. And we want to keep it,” he said, expressing pride for the rare moment that a community embraces a DHS transitional shelter. “Ironically, most neighborhoods fight to keep shelters out of a neighborhood. And we’re fighting to keep the shelter there—and we’re fighting the Department of Homeless Services.”

As of October 2, at least one woman had definitely been removed from the shelter—with her belongings in garbage bags—according to Peter Arndsten, district manager of the Columbus Amsterdam Business Improvement District. “They intend to empty the building by Friday [October 4],” he said at the full board meeting, alleging that current residents are being threatened with removal from the DHS system if they don’t sign papers relocating them to shelters across the city.

Borough President Gale Brewer confirmed Arndsten’s report at the meeting. “It’s not clear who’s there and who’s leaving. It’s very frustrating,” she said. “I cannot stand the idea of 120 women who are friends, who work—many for the city of New York—and who are in this shelter, being evicted,” she added, explaining that even though DHS may “claim the women are not being mandated to leave,” her outreach shows that they have given the women an ultimatum to do just that—or risk having no place to live in the future.

A city official, who disputed these allegations, said DHS is working with all of the women to find suitable permanent housing or transitional housing at alternative shelter locations. The official did not respond to the requests made in the public letter or community board resolution, but instead confirmed that they are aiming to complete the transition by November.

“We are going to do everything we can to put up a fight,” Brewer said.

Note: West Side Rag has updated this article to include a response from a city official. 

NEWS | 10 comments | permalink
    1. Joan says:

      If the community is supportive of the women’s shelter why change it. The neighborhood wants it and the women want to stay. This is cruel to the women who are living there.

    2. Braille Gooer says:

      Why doesn’t an emergency injunction work in this case?

    3. Jerome36 says:

      Mr Pohmer is being disingenuous. The shelter will still be there; it will house men instead of women. The real reason is that the neighborhood doesn’t want men of color in the area. They would rather have women of color because they feel more threatened by the men. Plain and simple. The nonsense about “we are fighting to keep the shelter here” is a red herring. The City is not proposing to move the shelter, only to change the occupants.

      • Karen Looze says:

        Do you think it is impossible for a community to embrace a a group of women who are struggling to make a better life? I think you are assuming racism where it doesn’t exist.

      • Wlnyc says:

        I would agree with your assessment, but from experience, their concerns could be valid. I lived on 95th street and when they moved a shelter in down the street, it became a horrible place to live. Hence, we are on Cathedral Parkway now. There was trash all over, residents were taking and selling drugs on the steps, there was a stabbing, my daughter and I walked by from school when a man pulled a knife inches away from us on another man, a TV was thrown out of a fifth-floor window, cursing ans yelling etc…I called the cops several times. So, yes, the prospect of it becoming worse can be real. And it is not because they are men of color – there was a veterans shelter next door to us with mainly men of color, and they were lovely. But if it is working as is, the shelter should remain for the women.

    4. Midtown Apt says:

      The M.O. of the de Blasio administration and, in particular, its DHS under Commissioner Banks is to fail to notify, refuse to answer questions, fail to attend meetings, and stonewall. The similarities to Trump are overwhelming. The one thing de Blasio and Banks don’t do is help the homeless citizens of this City. The good news: they’ll be gone in 27 months.

    5. David says:

      Not only is what we presently have working beautifully for the community, we have been given no reason for this unconscionable and probably unnecessary upheaval of lives. The terrible image of our productive and contributing women neighbors being pushed out the door with meager possessions in tow is reminiscent of that tragic ” Anatevka” scene from Fiddler on the Roof where the villagers, content in their sparse yet hopeful lives, were forced out of their community and homes by anonymous bureaucrats for reasons unexplained. Perhaps there are times when tough decisions are called for and even required. I strongly suspect this is not one of those times. This all appears simply expedient and certainly unkind. Our remarkable city is better than this

    6. ST says:

      A woman friend who has spent years on the street in NYC has shared with me many many times that coed shelters are not safe for women. She preferred braving the predators on the street to the predators in shelters, where staff are indifferent. On the street there are more people looking out for you. We need MORE women’s shelters not less. Yay for the pushback on this.

    7. Deb says:

      The article states that some of the residents are working for the City. Does this mean that employees of the city are bring paid do little that they can only afford to live in a shelter?

      • B.B. says:

        Don’t see why not. Plenty of NYCHA residents are municipal employees and even with rents pegged to no more than 30% of income they struggle.

        From this database of municipal employees you can see there are plenty of those in middle to even low $30k per year. Even more in $40k range per year.

        https://data.cityofnewyork.us/City-Government/Citywide-Payroll-Data-Fiscal-Year-/k397-673e

        Landlords want to see 40x income to rent ratio. This or common standard is that rent should not consume more than 30% of monthly take home income. You aren’t going to find much housing outside of NYCHA or whatever if you only earn $30k-$49k per year.

        Why do you think city forces developers of “affordable housing” to set aside certain percentage of units for municipal employees?