A plan by the administration of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to create a homeless shelter in Brighton Beach is drawing the ire of residents, who say the shelter represents a danger to the community, would affect real-estate values, and is not in the best interests of homeless individuals.
The administration says the site — a proposed 170-bed facility for single adults, at a former auto-body shop at 100 Neptune Avenue — will provide an opportunity for homeless people from the area to remain in their neighborhood, rather than going to large shelters elsewhere in the city, as part of its “Turning the Tide” homeless plan. The city has already identified 87 shelter locations, and opened 44, as part of Turning the Tide.
But many residents and officials from Brighton Beach and surrounding neighborhoods oppose the Neptune Avenue location. One hundred Brooklynites participated in a protest outside Gracie Mansion on Sunday, hosted by Councilman Chaim Deutsch and a newly formed group of South Brooklyn residents called the Coalition for Safe Housing. The invitation to the protest said, “We will not allow the Mayor to destroy our neighborhood, and to bring vulnerable homeless individuals into an unstable congregate shelter.”
Deutsch said at the protest that he would prefer that the city “place homeless people into [permanent] housing.”
“Nobody wants to go into these shelters,” said the Councilman. “It’s not safe. They don’t have proper services. No one who is living on the street now wants to go into these shelters, because if they would want to go into shelters, then why would we need an agency called Breaking Ground who actually goes out there to try to convince our street homeless population to go into shelters?”
“Homelessness is not a crime, and people should be treated with respect and empathy and basic decency,” said Nick Zorin, a Sheepshead Bay resident and head of the Coalition for Safe Housing. But Zorin expressed “concern … that the shelter system as a whole does not enable or empower people experiencing homelessness to transition into a more permanent housing solution.”
The New York City Department of Homeless Services says that shelters should be distributed equitably around the city, to allow people experiencing homelessness to remain in their communities.
“Homeless New Yorkers come from every community across the five boroughs, and now more than ever, we need every community to come together to address homelessness in this crisis,” a DHS spokesperson told Hamodia. “As we implement our borough-based approach, we are ending the use of inefficient stop gap facilities citywide while opening the high-quality facilities New Yorkers in need deserve as they stabilize their lives. This high-quality, borough-based facility will be the first shelter of its kind in this Community District, offering 170 New Yorkers experiencing homelessness the opportunity to get back on their feet safely and closer to their anchors of life in these unprecedented times. Working together with neighbors and not-for-profit service provider CORE, we’re confident that these New Yorkers will be warmly welcomed—and through collaborative support and compassion, we will make this the best experience it can be for all.”
According to the DHS, CORE Services Group, the nonprofit organization running the shelters, will provide an array of services for individuals using the shelter, such as counseling, housing-placement assistance, medical and mental-health services, and referrals to substance-abuse treatment, vocational training and employment opportunities. CORE will also provide “on-site security around the clock,” according to DHS, including at least six security officers and a supervisor every shift and 35 security cameras, and enforce a 10 p.m. curfew.
But opponents of the plan they have concerns about the shelter’s impact on the community.
“Of course the homeless need to be dealt with compassion and care,” said Inna Vernikov, a candidate running for Deutsch’s City Council seat. “But we cannot accomplish helping the struggling while hurting our children and our neighborhoods. The homeless-shelter plan for Neptune Avenue would be located just a few blocks from a school. Unfortunately, some of the individuals are problematic. And how can anyone in good conscience agree that it’s okay to risk the safety of our children? the homeless shelter would also significantly diminish the property values in our neighborhood. They should be placed away from schools and neighborhoods where it will decrease property values.”
Several counterprotestors stood with a sign that referred to the protestors as “anti-homeless,” which said, “How would you feel if people protested you?”
Other plans for homeless shelters across the city have drawn concern from local residents as well. At a recent community board meeting, Boro Park residents expressed opposition to proposed permanent housing for the homeless near Maimonides Medical Center. And Upper West Side residents complained when, early in the COVID-19 pandemic, the city sought to reduce crowding at traditional shelters by moving some homeless people to hotels in that neighborhood, with reports of convicted criminals among the hotel population and drug needles littering nearby streets.
Five of the seven candidates running in this year’s election to replace the term-limited Deutsch spoke at the protest Sunday — Vernikov, Binyomin Bendet, Mariya Markh, Steven Saperstein and Heshy Tischler. The other two candidates — Amber Adler and Boruch Noble — told Hamodia that while they were unable to participate in the rally, they oppose the shelter as well.
Deutsch said he is concerned that de Blasio, in the final year of his term, will sign long-term leases for this and other shelters that are opposed by local communities, tying the hands of the next mayor, who “will have a different vision of how to tackle homelessness.” Deutsch said he preferred that as a short-term solution until the next mayor takes office in January, de Blasio would sign one-year leases on apartments for the homeless, as New York City is experiencing large numbers of apartment vacancies during the COVID pandemic.