Friday, August 15, 2008

Crown Hts Says No to Homeless Intake Center

Crown Heights residents with calm resolve said, “No,” to NYC Department of Homeless Services plan to relocate the men’s homeless intake center from Bellevue men’s shelter in Manhattan to the Atlantic Armory Shelter located at the corner of Atlantic and Bedford Avenues in Brooklyn. Rather than belligerently bash the messenger, whom was DHS Deputy Commissioner for Adult Services/Operations George Nashak, Brooklyn Community Board 8 held a productive special meeting August 12, 2008 at the Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation.

Approximately 125 people packed the room with many others lining the hallway. Nashak’s statements were brief because he “wanted to hear what the people had to say.” He explained that due to an increase in the lease, the city of New York would exit Bellevue by June 2009. It is the city’s intention to have a Manhattan and Brooklyn men’s homeless intake centers. Though the Manhattan site hasn’t been identified, by April 25, 2008, Mayor Bloomberg announced the proposed Brooklyn site. This announcement perplexes many who know at least 60% of the homeless report hailing from Manhattan.

Elected officials who raised objection to the plan included Letitia James (35 CD) and Albert Vann (36 CD) as did Community Board 8 chairman Robert Matthews. St. Senator Eric Adams recalled his time as an 88th precinct police officer that worked hard to control illegal activity caused by the shelter residents. Adams sees the relocation as “the highest level of disrespect of a community.” He intends to form a taskforce that seeks legal remedies for the matter. “With the number of level 1, 2, and 3 sex offenders in the Atlantic Armory Shelter, Office of Mental Retardation and Development Disabilities commissioner was supposed to be presented with this plan.” Adams intends “to meet with the OMRDD commissioner, speak with attorney Norman Siegel and if need be, mobilize the homeless for a visit to Gracie Mansion.”

The Atlantic Armory Shelter has an assessment center. At one time it had 1,000 beds; currently it holds 350. Should it become the intake center the beds will reduce to 230. Given the shelter’s practice of turning the men out on the street in the morning, the community is concerned about the hundreds of additional homeless men who will loiter, panhandle or seek menial jobs.

While there was no apparent DHS staff member recording the community’s concerns, residents made their opposition known. One single mother who lives in a nearby family shelter described the lack of services and referrals for those in the system. Community icon Elsie Richardson spoke glowingly of thirty years of grassroot work to improve housing, transportation and other infrastructure [in the face of bank redlining]. Richardson recalls “past St. Assemblyman Roger Green’s proposal to convert the armory into a recreational facility.” Nelcia Clarence and John Allgood stated how unfair the siting is to the community. Ms. Clarence went, as far as to say, “Heads should roll for dumping so much on Crown Heights.”

The dumping she refers to is the number of methadone clinics, mental health programs, food programs, drop-in centers, and residential facilities for special needs populations. Observing the objections to the community’s comments, Janet Collins, another Crown Heights resident, questioned Nashak’s purpose. Nelson said, “You’re not hearing us, although we live here and know what’s going on, you’re denying what we’re saying.”

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