Shelter for Women and Children to Close Abruptly, Raising New Worries

The residents of the Ellington, a longstanding shelter for women and children on 111th Street off Riverside Drive, learned last Wednesday that the shelter is being phased out, and they will be moved beginning this week. The move-outs will start on Friday, June 4th, according to a spokesperson for the Department of Homeless Services.

Many residents are long-term, some with children enrolled in local schools.  After members of the community expressed concern, Council Member Mark Levine put out a statement clarifying the timeline.

He said he had “talked directly to the DHS commissioner and secured assurances that there will be no transfers of families out of the shelter on Monday as (some residents had mistakenly) feared.”

But that doesn’t mean it’s been postponed indefinitely, Levine wrote.

“While this is good news, DHS has indeed given residents at 111th Street a thirty-day notice that they will need to be relocated as part of their multi-year plan to move long-term residents out of ‘substandard shelters’ into permanent housing or better shelters….

“Additionally, I received assurances from DHS that there are no plans to turn the site into a shelter for a population other than women and families.

“I am truly inspired by the compassion so many neighbors on 111th St have shown the families of the shelter.  I am working to get answers as to why DHS considers this facility to be substandard, and whether there is any possibility to avert a shutdown.”

In 2002, when the hotel business was lagging after the 9/11 attacks, the Hotel Ellington was converted virtually overnight into a city shelter for homeless families, mostly mothers and children victimized by domestic abuse.

“The shelter has existed peaceably on our block for nearly 20 years with some children attending local schools,” wrote Greenwald, a neighbor who has been voluntarily cooking and collecting clothing, toys, and toiletries for the residents during the pandemic. WSR wrote about her and the Ellington here.

A DHS spokesperson wrote in an email that the city will phase out the Ellington “over the coming weeks” as part of its plan to end the use of former hotels and other stopgap sites to house the homeless. The agency says it will work with families to make the move smooth.

“As part of this course-of-business process, we will work directly and closely with each of the families currently residing at the site on next steps, helping families who are already connected to permanent housing move into that housing this month, and providing alternative shelter placements to the families who have not yet identified permanent housing that meets their needs or are not yet ready to move, including shelter placements closer to their children’s school where possible.”

Editor’s note: This article initially said incorrectly that the move-outs would begin Monday. They will start Friday, DHS says.

NEWS | 27 comments | permalink
    1. Dismayed says:

      Thank you for this important coverage, WSR. I am dismayed. I understand this facility to have a great deal of support from the local community, with which it is well integrated.

    2. Sarah says:

      This is bizarre. How could a family shelter not take into account the school year? And why is the shelter substandard? Is the plan to upgrade it? It doesn’t sound like, despite the short timeline, they’ve made firm plans for all the residents. All seems very unnecessarily disruptive for vulnerable families.

      • B.B. says:

        Hotel Ellington is just that, a hotel that city rented space to place homeless families.

        Accommodations aren’t remotely like apartment living including fact rooms don’t have cooking facilities, etc… That is the “substandard” part and there isn’t anyway to change things because city does not own property in question.

        If you’re a mother with one or more children these hotel shelter accommodations most always means city may arrange a hot plate (but maybe not), and maybe a small fridge. But usually it means either vouchers are given for meals, and or they are bought to the building by someone under contract to DHS to provide. It’s not the best way to feed children three meals per day…

        SRO hotel accommodations with kitchen facilities are slightly better option.

        • Anxious Koi says:

          Well-said, BB. That is exactly correct. I usually read comments expecting to read “drama”, but was pleasantly surprised by your insight. Thank you.

    3. B.B. says:

      City does not own the property in question. The Ellington became a homeless shelter almost 20 years ago in wake of 9/11/01, that’s a very long time for a supposed temporary arrangement.

      City has been spending huge sums in getting homeless into permanent housing, and or to stop using costly hotels for same. No one likes to see people uprooted, but that can and does happen when you’re dependent upon someone else for housing.

    4. Lady Di says:

      I do hope the DHS, et.al., will treat the residents fairly and with humanity. There but for the grace of God go any of us; many are only a paycheck away from becoming homeless. It is not only drugs or mental illness that can cause homelessness but lack of family to take one in, financial crises, etc.

    5. js says:

      BTW for several years, the City has been using multiple hotels around Times Square and Penn Station for families – parents, kids, babies.

      Completely horrible, dangerous place for families – plus no food markets, no green space or playgrounds, not near schools or libraries etc.

      Wondered why the Lucerne was not used for families?

      • LL says:

        I dont think it us psychologically beneficial to move kids from the place where they’ve gone to school, made friends. But the Penn Station/ Times Square area has grocery stores and playgrounds. Not as nice as on the UWS. But there are so many stores west of 8th avenue. And playgrounds

    6. Victoria McCormick says:

      This is not ok to throw innocent child into the streets!
      Necessaries are guaranteed by common law 45 through 54!
      You must uphold these statues for the children!
      Please consider obtaining another hotel!
      Cordially,
      disappointed,
      Ms.VMC
      Please contact your Congressional constituents about this vital matter!

    7. B.B. says:

      Article from Columbia Spectator published at the time (2002)spells things out.

      https://www.columbiaspectator.com/2002/04/18/dept-homeless-services-revitalizes-hotel-ellington/

      Families were only supposed to spend ten days max at “Hotel Ellington”, then move onto other housing. It was never meant to be permanent, even though apparently that is what happened over course of nearly twenty years.

      This is what happens far to often with New York state and city government. Something supposedly done or opened as “temporary” ends up going on for decades or just never ends.

      It makes you understand why local residents become genuinely roused when city says they are opening a “temporary” homeless shelter in their area.

    8. Lisa Greenwald says:

      More information has recently been forthcoming: Women will be moved into a Tier II shelter which provides more social services that many of these women need. At the same time, the community is pressing public officials to keep the DHS’s feet to the fire in terms of helping the women who qualify for it find permanent housing rather than shuttling them around from one place to the next. We are waiting for more information from city agencies and government officials.

    9. Susan says:

      Maybe they can be moved to the Lucerne after all the current residents are finally moved. I for one would welcome them.

      • More transparency says:

        The Lucerne is not a homeless shelter. This is directly outlined by the city and DHS – single rooms with no kitchenettes, no outdoor space, and no onsite space for supportive services. These women and children deserve to be in a proper facilities that will be able to serve their needs and help them transition to permanent housing which is always the goal. What is more disturbing is the lack of transparency from DHS about the seemingly overnight removal of these women with no notice.

        • js says:

          Yes children and families should be in safe healthy housing – not hotels.

          But please note that for years DHS has placed families in horrible midtown hotels – single rooms, no kitchenettes or cooking facilities etc.

          Being at the Lucerne – near schools, parks, food markets etc – would be better than a Times Square hotel

          • J.N. says:

            How about using it as a hotel again, now that the city has reopened?

            • Aj says:

              Will the scam “UWS Open Hearts” club be suing and doing public scenes like they did for the Lucerne residents here?

    10. Brenda says:

      What sad news

    11. CJ says:

      As a formally homeless person I have an issue with the closing of shelter hotels & reverting back to DHS shelters. The hotel in which I was housed was small with only 32 rooms. There were 2 women in each room. The maintenance crew was fantastic cleaning bathrooms & moping floors daily. Although there were no facilities in the room for cooking food was provided. This was a joy compared to the intake shelter where you would be in a room with 10 or more women. There was no privacy & you were not treated respectfully. Invariably there were troublemakers that compounded the angst of being there. It was a very inhumane environment.

    12. Patti Chambley says:

      I am dismayed at treatment from our local Bellevue Shelter so I filed a fair housing complaint It is not good…Sad for these families Ours is in Washington

    13. OJ says:

      While I applaud DHS’s promise to help each individual family, the challenge to affordable housing has been the amount in the housing voucher. The City Council just voted to increase it significantly, but whether the increase will occur in a timely manner to help these residents is unknown.

    14. ARLENE HOHNEKER says:

      I am saddened by this news. As a former New Yorker (West 154th and Amsterdam) who got displaced by the 1st economic depression of the 21st Century in 2008, and New York City not having good social services to begin with (I had nowhere to turn to much less know of resources in terms of shelters) the city is doing a disservice to its most vulnerable populations. All because Columbia needs the property to use for student housing (now that colleges will be going back to almost full on site classes and Columbia has been eating property all up Broadway and probably St. Nicholas abd Amsterdam), or luxury housing, or going back to a hotel with tourism returning. I ended up in Boston and still ended up homeless for a bit, but resources were easier to find. Like NYC, Boston lost a small Salvation Army because the South End’s property value went up and the As a wanted funds to build a community Center with a water park. For the newly homeless, going to a place that felt like a college dorm was more bearable than going to a large facility that feels like a cross between a minimum security prison and an insane asylum is scary and traumatic. Shelters for families are far and few between in both cities and waitlists for Section 8 are close if not more than a decade’s wait. By closing the shelter New York City sends out the message loud and clear that the poor residents do not matter, New York City cares only for the rich. You’d think something as horrible and tragic like the pandemic would make New York City compassionate, but to me it screams ‘business as usual’ as if there was no pandemic. We’re still not over this yet.

    15. Pedestrian says:

      It’s amazing that women and children get kicked out while single men at the Lucerne get to stay. Children need a perm are place. Victims of Domestic abuse done need this kind of instability. I wonder what developer wants this space before DeBlasio is gone?

    16. Capitalist says:

      The building has mediterranean beauty. I’m sure antique fetish retirees would like to rent out with higher rent. The location is quiet, conveniently commutable to hospitals without driving unlike other states or suburb. That would bring more tax income for the city government.

      Approx $1500 new housing voucher should give a chance for single mothers to become financially independent.

    17. Carol says:

      Why can’t even just one NYCHA building be turned into a family homeless shelter???? There are plenty of NYCHA buildings around with parking lots for tenants….Yes, NYCHA buildings offer cheap rent but they can also offer homes for the homeless.

    18. Akamai says:

      This area is now one of the most expensive in the City. For the money the City is paying, they could probably open five shelters around the City, which are sorely needed.

      Also, on the UWS, any store or restaurant is very expensive. None of these families can afford them, which they might be able to in other neighborhoods.

      • Morningside Heights says:

        It is not true that “any store or restaurant is very expensive” here; maybe in the traditional UWS but not in Morningside Heights, where this facility is located. There are many inexpensive stores and restaurants (really good restaurants!) on Broadway, Amsterdam, and Columbus in the 100s-120s. Rent is another story.

    19. Scott says:

      During a time of supposedly cratering real estate prices its now to expensive to house women & children that need shelter?