Upper West Side Residents Object to Plan for New Homeless Shelter

Upper West Side residents, backed up by their local community board, objected Tuesday night to the city’s plan to open a 200-bed homeless shelter on West 94th Street by the end of the year.

Upper West Side residents packed the room to complain about the city’s plan to open a 200-bed homeless shelter on West 94th Street. (The Ink/Katherine Shi)

About 20 people packed the room at a Manhattan Community Board 7 meeting at Mount Sinai Hospital West to complain about the plan.

The city has announced a plan to close Freedom House, a homeless shelter at 316 West 95th Street, and replace it with a new one in the Alexander, a single-room-occupancy building at 306 West 94th street. The residents living in the Alexander will not be forced to move out, city officials said.

A resident spoke in front of the Community Board to explain why she was against the opening of the new shelter. (The Ink/Katherine Shi)

However, residents argued that there are already two facilities offering social services to vulnerable people on West 94th Street and adding a new one on the block will compromise the safety of the neighborhood.

“Both my husband and I refuse to support anything about moving Freedom House to our block, said Bonnie Epstein, who has lived on West 94th Street for 40 years. “It would destroy the fragile balance of life and safety that currently struggles to exist on our block.”

West 94th Street is already home to two social service facilities, one providing long-term or permanent supportive housing for formerly homeless and mentally ill individuals and another one used as an emergency shelter sometimes for people experiencing temporary problems.

Some residents said they are worried about what they see as a decline in public safety in the neighborhood. They said they have been complaining about the disorderly activities, harassment and fights among Freedom House residents.

Randi Urban, who lives near the proposed new site, said that she and her 13-year-old daughter are afraid to walk on the block.

“They are busing these people into the shelters from Brooklyn,” said Urban. “But they are surprised by the high price of food in the expensive Upper West Side neighborhood. They are frustrated by this and have started fights in the community. How is this arrangement fair to the vulnerable, homeless people, and how is it fair to the denizens of 94 St?”

Aaron Biller, president of Neighborhood in the 90s, said West 94th Street has already met its “fair share” in homeless facilities. (The Ink/Katherine Shi)

During the meeting, Aaron Biller, president of a local advocacy group Neighborhood in the 90s, said the block already has a supportive housing facility.

“The mayor’s 2016 homelessness plan promises to keep shelter clients in their home borough and to redistribute 90 shelters across the five boroughs,” said Biller. “How fair can this promise of redistribution be when you open a shelter on a block that is already doing more than most communities that house facilities that house the homeless?”

Helen Rosenthal, the local city council member, stated in an Oct. 5 newsletter that the new shelter to be placed on West 94th Street will house approximately 200 homeless adult families and will be managed by a new provider, Praxis Housing Initiatives, a Manhattan-based nonprofit.

Marisa Maack, chief of staff to Rosenthal, said the move is not adding a new shelter to the neighborhood  but instead just transferring homeless people from a bad building to a better facility with a much better provider. She said there’s no plan to continue using the Freedom House building as a shelter.

“For years we’ve heard from residents that there were security issues from Freedom House,” said Maack. “There were no social services in the building for the homeless and there were no spaces for the shelter residents to congregate. The new shelter on 94th Street will be run by a new provider that has a fairly good record and it will be able to have community rooms, space for programs and its own in-house security.”

Community Board 7 passed a resolution to oppose the movement of Freedom House to West 94th Street. (The Ink/Katherine Shi)

The board responded by passing a resolution opposing moving Freedom House and demanded that the city work with the community board to come up with a solution. The issue will be discussed again at the board meeting on Dec. 19.