Thursday, October 25, 2012

Carroll Gardeners Came Out In Force To Express Concerns About Proposed Homeless Shelter On West 9th Street

Carroll Gardeners Came Out In Force To Express Concerns About Proposed Homeless Shelter On West 9th Street

IMG_0107IMG_0071IMG_0075Community Board 6's Chairman Daniel KumerIMG_0083Paige Bellenbaum of Community Board 6's Youth and Human Services CommitteeIMG_0086Robert Hess of Housing Solutions/Aguila, Inc.IMG_0088Alex Zablocki, spokesman for NYC's Dept. of Homeless ServicesIMG_0094Councilman Brad Lander, Assemblywoman Joan Millman, State Senator Daniel SquadronIMG_0100State Senator Daniel SquadronIMG_0106Councilman Brad Lander

Last night, the Carroll Gardens community came out in full force to an informational  meeting hosted by Community Board 6's Youth and Human Services Committee regarding the proposed homeless shelter at 165 West 9th Street.  The auditorium at PS 58, where the meeting was held, was filled to capacity.  Obviously, the proposal had generated not only much interest but also stirred some emotions.

Representatives of  Housing Solutions USA/Aguila Inc., the non-profit organization that proposed the shelter, and of  NYC's Dept. of Homeless Services (DHS) were also in attendance.  So were our elected officials.

CB6 Chairman Daniel Kumer opened the meeting by stating that since the shelter is being authorized under the “Emergency Contract” rule,  CB6 does not have a formal role beyond having received a notification about the proposal.  However, in a statement read by CB6 member Paige Bellenbaum, "that does not mean that we cannot express our views to the City's administration if we choose to."

Kumer explained that the Board had asked Housing Solutions/Aguila, Inc.  for a copy of the plan, but was referred to the City's Department of Homeless Services. The agency had not provided a plan as of last evening.

Robert Hess of Housing Solutions/Aguila, Inc. gave a brief presentation.  "We have operated non-profits for many, many years.  I have served as the head of Homeless Services for the city of Philadelphia for 5 years and have been the commissioner for Homeless Services for the Bloomberg Administration's second term," he stated.  "This is a subject that is near and dear to my heart."
The non-profit organization operates several shelters in the Bronx, he explained.  This particular homeless shelter will be its first in Brooklyn.  In regards to this particular location,  Hess stated:" We constantly monitor demand for shelters. Very tragically in this city, we are seeing a huge uptick in the level of demand in homeless services."  He continued: " The good news is, I think, that we live in the only city in our country that has a 'legal right to shelter'.  That means that each and every individual that has a need for shelter will be provided."
The property at West 9th Street had been shown to the non-profit by its owner Alan Lapes.  "From our perspective it was a very good facility to house single adults.  We made the City aware of the facility.  They came and took a look and agreed. We made a proposal to the City to house 170 single men in that facility.  We expect a significant security force, case managers, record and supervisors and specialists on sight."  He added: " So that's our objective. It really isn't more complicated that that."

Representatives of NYC's Department of Homeless Services (DHS) then gave a brief presentation.
The agency's spokesperson, Alex Zablocki explained that the homeless men will be referred to this particular shelter from the agency's central intake point at 32 First Avenue in Manhattan.  The Carroll Gardens shelter will house employable men, who will stay at the facility from 6 months to a year on average.

Zablocki further explained the “emergency contract” rule.  "Our agency must offer a bed to every individual that comes to our intake center for services. In May 2012, our census number for single adults showed that there are 8,965 people in the system, 5% above the level in 2011 and 17% above the level in 2010."
In June of 2012, DHS's Commissioner made a request to the City's Comptroller John Liu in order to be able to expedite proposals to bring the number of available shelter beds up in order to fill the need."
We want you to understand that we work under the State mandate , that we have to provide this service, and that we look to communities across the city to put shelters online.
Asked whether some of the homeless men sheltered at the facility may be criminals or sex offenders, DHS representatives explained that the agency is not allowed to inquire about criminal history.  "The 'Right To Shelter' policy does not disqualify those with a criminal record" he stated. "They are coming to us because they don't have any other options."

Assemblywoman Joan Millman, State Senator Daniel Squadron and Councilman Brad Lander stood united in declaring that the way DHS has handled the proposal by Housing Solutions USA and Aguila, Inc. "has not been collaborative, thoughtful, or well conceived."  Despite repeated requests in writing, the agency has failed to " substantially address the issues we raised."

Some of the issues are:
-how is it possible to squeeze 170 people into a 10-unit building?
-no building  plans have been provided
-no security proposal has been provided
-no service plan has been provided
-DHS has failed to address serious potential conflicts of interests

Senator Squadron felt that: " As a Carroll Gardens resident, I just want to say that we understand fair share and we do understand that,  because of a woefully failed homeless policy by the City administration, we have a higher rate of homelessness than we ever had and that every neighborhood has to play a fair and reasonable part.  The problem is that this proposal is ill-conceived and ill thought-out.  I don't know if you have ever walked on that block, but the idea of 170 people, whether it be seniors in need or college or single homeless men or any one living there doesn't make sense."

Carroll Gardens residents were very vocal about their concerns throughout the meeting.  They demanded to know if it was safe to put so many people in the proposed building,  why construction crews were currently working on the building without permits,  why bunk beds and mattresses had already been moved in, and most importantly, why this had been done through side -door process.
Members of the audience also mentioned more than once that the relationship between the owners of the building and Housing Solutions USA/ Aguila Inc. certainly gave the appearance impropriety.
(See the handout by Coalition For Carroll Gardens Brooklyn below)

Alex Zablocki  explained that the New York State Office Of Temporary Disability Assistance (OTDA), not DHS, will make the final decision to issue an operating certificate for the West 9th Street facility.  As for determining whether the building is safe for 170 people,  that is the responsibility of the Building's Department.

After most of the residents had left, the members of CB6's Youth and Human Services Committee
unanimously passed a motion which read:  "Community Board 6 opposes the use of 165 West 9th Street for a 170-bed homeless shelter for 170 men and calls for the New York City's Department of Homeless Services to reject the proposal on the basis of lack of process and merit."
The motion will be voted on by the full Board at the next general meeting.

Where you there last night?  What did you think?

CCG_Facts_Questions copyCCG_Facts_Questions (dragged) copy

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