By Carol Tannenhauser
Two local politicians who represent the Upper West Side told the New York City Department of Social Services (DSS) on Monday that its plans to house 108 homeless men and women in a controversial West 83rd Street “safe haven” may violate state and city requirements for single room occupancy (SRO) dwellings.
In a joint letter to the department, City Council Member Gale Brewer and State Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal asked the city to review the Multiple Dwelling Code, as well as the New York City Housing Maintenance Code, “to ensure compliance.”
The city intends to place up to four people in a room at the safe haven, but the New York State Multiple Dwelling Code, Section 248 (12), stipulates that “No room may be occupied for sleeping purposes by more than two adults.”
“There is no question that New York City needs more beds for individuals experiencing homelessness,” wrote Brewer and Hoylman-Sigal, “but the planned four beds per room at the 83rd Street facility raises significant concerns.” In addition to the dwelling code requirements, the two politicians said there are practical reasons for reducing the size of the population at the safe haven: “We know from conversations with safe haven residents and outreach workers that people are more likely to utilize the housing, and the support services that come with it, if rooms are limited to one or two beds,” they wrote.
The number of residents planned for the facility is one complaint raised by opponents of the safe haven. So is its location, at 106-108 West 83rd Street, which is directly across the street from an elementary school and a middle school. At a small protest in front of the facility last month, one woman said bitterly: “Clearly, we’re going to have to start picking up our kids again.” But some neighborhood residents have said they welcome the facility as a way of providing shelter and services to those who live on the streets. After the protest, Open Hearts, a nonprofit organization that advocates for homeless individuals citywide, set up a “free store,” offering toiletries and socks, saying it would provide such items once the city begins moving residents into the shelter
Even though the city’s plan calls for the first homeless to move in before the end of April, Community Board 7 postponed until May 2 a vote on a resolution that would put on the record the community’s position on the safe haven. The resolution concurs with Brewer and Hoylman-Sigal, stating that, for several years, the board has been requesting “a safe haven that meets best practices for the population being served.”
But the board’s resolution, as currently worded, also calls for a significant reduction in the number of beds. The safe haven should house no more than 84 people, in single and double rooms, the resolution says. The first 80 residents are currently scheduled to begin moving in at the end of April, with the last 28 coming in the summer.