A meeting held Wednesday night to discuss the proposed homeless shelter in Carroll Gardens did little to ease residents' many fears, issues and concerns with the prospect of these new neighbors moving into the community.
Hosted by Community Board 6's Youth and Human Services Committee at , the meeting was filled to capacity with concerned residents and elected officials as well as representatives from Housing Solutions/Aguila, Inc. and the NYC's Dept. of Homeless Services to discuss what the neighborhood could expect.
Robert Hess, CEO of Housing Solutions/Aguila, Inc., the non-profit that submitted the proposal to the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) plans to open a shelter that will house 170 single men at 165 W. 9 St., formerly prepared as a 10-unit condo building. Hess noted he has considerable experience in running homeless services, and that the decision to open a shelter in Carroll Gardens was one of opportunity.
"We constantly monitor demand for shelters," Hess said. "From our perspective it was a very good facility to house single adults."
After deciding on the building, Housing Solutions/Aguila made the City aware of the facility and authorities came to look and agreed it was suitable, he said.
"We made a proposal to the City to house 170 single men in that facility," Hess continued. "We expect a significant security force, case managers, record and supervisors and specialists on sight."
Alex Zablocki, a spokesman for the DHS, agreed with Hess, saying the shelter will house employable men who will be allowed to stay at the facility for six months to a year on average.
Though board members stressed that the meeting was strictly informational, many residents and elected officials wanted more than the answers and explanations provided.
Assemblywoman Joan Millman, State Senator Daniel Squadron and Councilman Brad Lander were in agreement that all New Yorkers should have a safe place to sleep at night. But all three stated they felt the way this particular case was handled by parties involved was not "collaborative, thoughtful, or well conceived."
Elected officials reminded the community and those representing DHS that they, along with Borough President Marty Markowitz, had reached out to Seth Diamond, the Commissioner of the DHS, asking to be part of the process to develop an "appropriate proposal" to bring a homeless shelter to the neighborhood, and raised questions that many at the meeting had been asking all night.
Some questions asked include, why this process has seemingly been done through a "side-door" process, how it will be possible to fit 170 people into a 10-unit building, why construction crews are already working on the building, why neither a security proposal nor a service plan were provided to the public and those elected officials, and why the DHS has not addressed potential conflicts of interest, as noted by Capital New York.
Zablocki stated that this process is being done through the “emergency contract” rule which allows for an expedited process, and that the agency must offer a bed to every individual that comes for one under State mandate.
The backgrounds of individuals that will be living in the shelter came up often, with many residents concerned that criminals and otherwise deviant individuals will be coming to the neighborhood.
Zablocki didn't quell fears when he explained that the "Right to Shelter" policy doesn't disqualify those with a criminal record. In fact, individuals do not have to disclose their past during the 21-day evaluation period conducted at a different location. "They are coming to us because they don't have any other options," he said.
Zablocki noted that the New York State Office Of Temporary Disability Assistance (OTDA) will make the final decision whether 165 W. 9 Street is a suitable location for a facility, and told residents they can continue to direct their concerns to DHS at email@example.com.
Following the public information meeting, the Youth and Human Services Committee unanimously passed a motion that noted Community Board 6 opposes the use of 165 W. 9th St. for a 170-bed homeless shelter for 170 men. The motion called for DHS to reject the proposal on the basis of lack of process and merit.
The motion will be voted on by the full Community Board at the next general meeting.