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.