Monday, March 6, 2023
Generally clear. High 52 degrees.
Our calendar has lots of local events! Click on the link or the lady in the upper righthand corner to look.
There will be a Full Community Board 7 meeting on Tuesday, March 7, at 6:30 PM. Important resolutions are being voted on, including one denying a deliverista hub the city wants to place at West 72nd Street and Broadway, and another approving a safe haven the city is placing on West 83rd Street. The meeting will be held online via Zoom. The public is encouraged to attend.
Register for the meeting | Sign-up to speak
By Carol Tannenhauser
I live two blocks and one avenue away from the new “safe haven” that is scheduled to open next month on West 83rd Street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues.
A safe haven is a form of transitional housing developed for unsheltered homeless people — those living in the streets, parks, and subways. The 83rd Street safe haven is replacing a traditional men’s homeless shelter that had been operating in that location for decades, but closed in 2019 for undisclosed reasons, perhaps related to a double stabbing and murder that took place there.
Safe havens are different from traditional homeless shelters. They generally have smaller populations, with more individualized services, and fewer rules. Most important, a person doesn’t have to enter the widely feared and highly bureaucratic New York City homeless shelter system to gain entry to a safe haven. Residents are brought directly in by community outreach workers, who presumably know and have worked with them for awhile. Here arises another issue: should residents come from outside of the neighborhood? But that’s for another story.
Reader response to the coming of this new facility rivals that engendered by countless stories we wrote in 2020 about The Lucerne hotel on West 79th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, which the city used to house 283 homeless men for nearly a year at the height of the pandemic. But I had watched the Lucerne saga from afar; this new safe haven is in my backyard.
I won’t deny initial feelings of dismay and alerts from my inner “nimby” — an acronym for the phrase “not in my backyard.” In other words, “of course these facilities are needed, just don’t put them in my sight line.” I struggled with my conflicts and conscience, until I remembered that I know something about homelessness and homeless people, learned firsthand.
I worked closely with single, homeless men for more than 20 years, readying them for jobs and finding employers who would hire them, at The Doe Fund, a nonprofit organization that deploys and pays the men in blue uniforms you see sweeping up and bagging trash around the city. The Doe Fund also provide them with social services and educational and job-training opportunities. Over the years, I interviewed hundreds of homeless men in the Harlem shelter where I worked: ex-offenders, ex-gang members, ex-drug dealers, ex-addicts, foster-care kids, crack babies, murderers. I’ve maintained a lasting friendship with one man I met there — my boss — the former director of The Doe Fund’s Ready, Willing & Able program. As we got to know each and shared our histories, I learned that he had been a heroin and crack addict, who had survived for a year sleeping on the F train.
My friend grew up in Amsterdam Houses, the NYCHA project on 61st and Amsterdam. When he lived there in the 1950s, it was brand new and idyllic, “because drugs had not yet hit,” he explained. As the debate continues over the 83rd Street safe haven, it’s worth going back to read three stories written by my friend for the Rag. His descriptions of how drugs destroy lives and neighborhoods are searing. The links are here, here, and here.
In the current furor over the new safe haven, many protest: “But it’s across the street from a school!” The safe haven is indeed across the street from a school. But some of the homeless likely to move in are already in the neighborhood: in doorways, under sidewalk sheds, in subway stations and cars. Are the schools more secure with them roaming the streets than they would be if they were living in a facility with a projected staff of 40 or more, including security guards, case managers, and psychiatrists? And are the homeless better off on the streets than in a facility where they have access to assistance that could help them move forward in their lives, like my friend?
If I had seen him on the subway, slumped over, smelly, in dirty clothes, I would have moved away from him. Another program — and his enormous will — saved him and helped him become a productive member of society. Every homeless person has a story. Every one cannot be saved. But all seem worth a try.
Did I mention that those years spent with homeless men were the most instructive, exciting, and rewarding of my life? You haven’t lived until you see a formerly homeless man get a job!
Editor’s note: The Rag will be following the progress of the safe haven closely. My personal leanings will not get in the way of the fair, full, and accurate reporting you have come to expect from the Rag. Our intention is to speak to representatives from Breaking Ground, the nonprofit that will run the safe haven. I learned from my experience at The Doe Fund that the quality of the service provider determines the quality of the services and facility.
Also: NPR is working on the story of a homeless man, now deceased, named “Stephen” who lived on a Riverside Park bench. WSR did several stories on him. If you remember him and are interested in sharing your memories, please email Radio Diaries producer Alissa Escarce at email@example.com.
Take care and enjoy the week!