Plans to Locate Homeless Shelter Adjacent to School Raises Concerns
The City’s Department of Social Services (DSS) is planning to open a homeless shelter for up to 170 single men at 41-43 Beekman Street (near the corner of William Street), steps away from the Spruce Street School, which is attended by more than 400 kindergarten-through-eighth grade students. The building, which is now being emptied of tenants, is slated to start construction for conversion to a shelter next year, with an opening scheduled for 2025.
At the November 15 meeting of the Quality of Life Committee of Community Board 1 (CB1), chair Pat Moore quizzed Marsha Horne, DSS’s Manhattan Borough Director for Intergovernmental and Legislative Affairs by asking, “so my understanding is that we’re not going to have any input from the community until after the site is open?”
Ms. Horne replied, “there’s going to be a Community Advisory Board [CAB] for this site. Then you will have the input.” (A CAB is an advisory body comprised of community leaders and representatives of elected officials who seek to mitigate impacts of large projects at the neighborhood level.)
Ms. Moore asked, “is that how it normally happens, that someone finds a building and it’s vacant, then you rent it or buy it, and you put a shelter there with no input from the community about whether that’s a great location or not? I don’t think that it just should be that because the owner of a building wants to rent it, that a shelter should be okayed.”
Ms. Horne answered, “the nuance of it is kind of new to me, to be honest. I know that because of the asylum-seeker crisis and the need for shelter in general, and Covid, a lot of landlords have been offering up their buildings.”
“Just because they offered, doesn’t mean we need to accept,” Ms. Moore pushed back. “And it might not be a great place, across from the school.” She added, “We welcome shelters in our community, but I don’t think it’s a great location. And I think that before there is construction, before the shelter is actually opened, there needs to be some input. And we should definitely have a CAB before the shelter is complete. So how do we halt this process?”
“You can definitely send me an email about any concerns regarding the site,” Ms. Horne said.
Quality of Life Committee member Brendan Thompson asked about the terms of the contract under which the shelter will be operated, prompting Ms. Horne to acknowledge, “I typically won’t know anything about the contract. That’s way above my pay-grade level. But once we set up the site and construction is complete, we are definitely going to entertain another full presentation into what services would be provided and what’s happening there.”
CB1 chair Tammy Meltzer said, “siting new shelters is supposed to be a part of the Community Board process. After getting the notification, I was able to raise some concerns, but quite frankly, the due diligence shouldn’t be on the Community Board to tell you that there’s a school there, or that you are around the corner from a college and down the street from a hospital. All of those things should actually be in the information that you have.”
“At the height of the Covid crisis,” she continued, “when a new shelter was coming online, DSS brought the operator to us, and we had conversations long before the opening.” (This was a reference to the Radisson Wall Street Hotel, at 52 William Street, which was used as an emergency homeless shelter during the pandemic.) “And I’m frustrated that the CAB won’t be started until after the building is already done.”
Ms. Meltzer observed, “even with the borough-based jails, we had a CAB that was set up before the hammer hit the building.” (This was a reference to the controversial, ongoing plan to demolish the Manhattan Detention Center, on White Street, and replace it with the world’s tallest prison.)
She added, “it is further concerning to me that we’re getting a note that says ‘congratulations, this is your first shelter,’ when we all know this is not the first.” In fact, Lower Manhattan is home to multiple facilities for housing the needy, such as the Bowery Mission’s Tribeca campus (at 90 Lafayette Street), and several hotels that are being used to shelter migrants, such as the Holiday Inn at 99 Washington Street.
Ms. Meltzer continued, “this was not a letter to CB1 saying, ‘we have this opportunity, will you partner with us, and what do you think?’ This was, ‘hey, good luck. This is your first.’”
“We support getting the homeless off the street and helping people who cannot find permanent shelter,” Ms. Meltzer added. “We are absolutely devoted to helping our fellow man, understand that.”
Quality of Life Committee member Rosa Chang said, “I cannot adequately express my extreme concern about locating right across the street from a preschool. You are going to get a lot of ferocious pushback on that. This is not an acceptable location.”
“And I know that honestly, everybody’s going to say every location sucks,” she acknowledged, “but right across the street from our preschool just seems an especially bad choice. It’s not like we have a whole plethora of schools around here. So please pick another location that would make a better fit. I just can’t underline that enough for you. We will fight this.”