Non-Profit Outlines Plan for ‘Safe Haven’ Shelter on Washington Street
The onetime Downtown Community House, at 105 Washington Street, is slated to return to its historic roots with conversion into a homeless shelter.
The administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio plans to create a homeless shelter at a historic building on Washington Street, in the Greenwich South neighborhood of Lower Manhattan, in partnership with a highly regarded non-profit, the Center for Urban Community Services (CUCS).
As discussed at the Thursday evening meeting of the Quality of Life Committee of Community Board 1 (CB1), CUCS proposes to launch a “safe haven” shelter for up to 84 clients, at 105 Washington Street. The staff of 37 will offer primary care, nursing, psychiatric services, security, and consultation with social workers to help certify clients for benefits, and help them segue into more stable, longer-term homes.
“This facility will not for warehousing,” said CUCS’s chief operating officer, Douglas James. “We aim to move people from the streets to permanent housing.”
Joseph DeGenova, CUCS’s president, explained the concept behind a “safe haven” shelter. “Traditional shelters do a bed check every night at 10:00 pm. If the client isn’t there, they lose the bed. But we have no curfew, and our rules are more relaxed to make it easier for clients to adjust.”
“There are numerous reasons for homeless people not to want to enter shelters,” he continued. “The primary issue is that they don’t feel safe in a facility with 200 or more residents.” Other reluctant clients include homeless couples, who fear being separated in gender-segregated facilities (the shelter at 105 Washington will accept both men and women, as well as couples), and homeless people with pets, which the new facility will also take.
The safe haven will also give preference to homeless persons currently living on the streets of Lower Manhattan. “Our outreach will focus on people from 13th street, down to South Ferry,” Mr. James noted. “But people who live in this area will most likely to come here.”
When asked about potential safety issues, he replied, “these are the same people who live on your local streets right now. They represent less of a danger when they are inside. When a client is in crisis, we want it to happen inside, where we can intervene. When their needs outstrip our resources, we call 911 and get them removed, to be assessed and stabilized. But it’s better for the community at large — and better for the individual who is experiencing psychiatric and medical distress — for this to happen in our facility.”
“Another critically important feature for our plan is outdoor space,” he added. “The outdoor roof at 105 Washington gives us a recreation area.”
CB1 member Bob Schneck remarked, “this is the special sauce. It seems to work.”
Mr. DeGenova reflected that, “our biggest challenge is the real estate side of things. We’ve been working on this building for five years. The real issue is finding property that will work well, and finding a community that will support it.”
The building at 105 Washington is the former Downtown Community House, which was opened in 1926 to serve the then-thriving immigrant community of “Little Syria,” which was the nexus of Arab culture in the United States. “The Downtown Community House was built by the Wall Street elite in the midst of the Roaring Twenties to provide social services in perpetuity for immigrant community on Lower Manhattan, in the Financial District’s backyard” recalled Todd Fine, a founder of the local preservation organization, Washington Street Advocacy Group. “When the building opened, they had a parade with dozens ethnic groups marching, as Mayor Jimmy Walker officially opened the building, where Governor Al Smith had laid the cornerstone a year earlier.”
For more than a decade, Mr. Fine has been organizing support to have the Downtown Community House designated a City landmark. At Thursday’s meeting, he asked CUCS’s leaders to commit to preserving the historic facade of the building, a request to which they agreed.
Leilani Irvin, the Manhattan Borough Director for the City’s Department of Homeless Services (DHS), said of CUSC, “this is an amazing social service provider that does great work. We are happy that this community will have this provider operating here, taking care of your neighbors.”
Esther Regelson, who lives next door at 109 Washington Street, said, “we appreciate what you’re doing and support you, but have concerns about all the renovation you plan. Our building is very porous and has had structural issues. Because of the demolition of the building on the other side of us, our building now leans on yours. I’m hoping that we can meet with you and talk about these issues, and get phone numbers to reach out quickly if we need to.” CUSC’s leaders agreed to meet and provide direct contact information.
Matthew Colpitts, the director of security at the nearby Léman Manhattan Preparatory School, asked whether sex offenders would be housed at the facility, and also questioned, “what kind of training do your guards have? It is beyond the minimum for New York State? Because as a security director, I can tell you that training is terrible and useless.”
Ms. Irvin replied, “all clients are screened and if we find that a prospective resident is a registered sex offender, we place them in an appropriate facility.”
Mr. James added that professional security officers are provided by a specialized contractor, “and we can always switch out individual officers if we are not satisfied with their performance.”
“We don’t believe our program is in conflict with the interests of the community,” he noted. “We have a history of being good neighbors.”
Asked about the timeline for launching the facility, Mr. James said, “we are in the final stages of purchasing the building, and if everything goes according to plan, we expect to open in the spring of 2022.”
Build Your Dream House
The Church Street School for Music and Art will continue a decades-long Downtown tradition (albeit, in virtual form, as a concession to COVID-19) by offeringGingerbread House Decorating Kits (priced at $85), now through Christmas week.
Each take home kit includes one homemade gingerbread house, a variety of candy, freshly made icing, and one foiled round to set your house up on. In addition to offering great holiday fun, this program is one of the most important fundraisers for the highly regarded non-profit institution that has brought enrichment to the lives of generations of Lower Manhattan kids.
Jupiter and Saturn closest meeting in centuries on the 21st: get ready!
The show is on and thrilling to observe!
Everyday this week, within one hour of sunset, in the colorful sky to the southwest, brilliant planet Jupiter and fainter Saturn appear aligned just above skyline. See the two shining, star-like points of light incrementally closer to one another each successive evening. We are witnessing the overture to a phenomenal astronomical moment known as a Great Conjunction of the largest planets in our solar system, Jupiter and Saturn.
In December, just as Jupiter and Saturn are nearly at their closest, the young moon will sweep past them. From December 16-25, 2020, the planets will be separated by less than a full-moon diameter, just as the moon is passing close. Jupiter is brighter, outshining Saturn by 12 times. Saturn is respectably bright, though, shining as brilliantly as a 1st-magnitude star.
On the evening of December 17, the skies were clear, allowing a glorious view of Jupiter and Saturn low in the southwest sky, descending toward the New Jersey horizon.
Everything Old Is New Again
Lower Manhattan’s First House of Worship Gets a Facelift
The ongoing evolution of Lower Manhattan’s preeminent landmark, Trinity Church, is proceeding with new signage on the fence surrounding the property, and a new stained glass window within its facade, facing Broadway.
Most recently, following a December 8 hearing, the City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) approved requests to add two pairs of new signs (one set of traditional display frames and one pair of digital screens) to Trinity’s exterior fence, which dates from 1827. To read more…
The Downtown Alliance is donating $10,000 each to 11 local arts and cultural groups, as part of its ongoing effort to spearhead the recovery of Lower Manhattan from the pandemic coronavirus, and the economic downtown that it unleashed.
The recipients of these grants include the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, the 9/11 Tribute Museum, the Battery Dance Company, the China Institute, Fraunces Tavern Museum, Gibney Dance, the Museum of Jewish Heritage, Poets House, the Skyscraper Museum, the South Street Seaport Museum, and the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation. The funding for these grants comes from Brookfield Properties, Silverstein Properties and the Howard Hughes Corporation. To read more…
photo: Elisa de la Roche
The Not-So-Okay Corral
DOT Overrules Community Concerns about Delivery Bike Facility in Tribeca
The City’s Department of Transportation has ignored calls from Community Board 1 to address concerns of Tribeca residents before installing a cargo bike corral on Warren Street (between West and Greenwich Streets), to facilitate the use of powered bicycles when making grocery deliveries. To read more…
Learn and practice Mandarin, while engaging with Chinese literature, poetry, history and more with fellow enthusiasts. Participants will enjoy live, interactive learning sessions with our language and cultural experts from home. Free
Santa’s Secret Helpers
Imagine what it’s like to be a kid who, for some reason, isn’t on Santa’s list. Now, just imagine what a huge impact you can make in the life of a child and their parents by being their secret Santa.
Stockings with Care, a charity based in Lower Manhattan, steps in to help when parents cannot provide Christmas gifts for their children, so no child is left out. But the organization, which has benefited over 40,000 children since 1992, needs your help. The parents give the gifts that donors (such as you) provide to the child, preserving their dignity and connection, while ensuring the gifts received are the ones the child wished for. Stockings with Care has created five easy ways to contribute.