A plan to house 200 homeless adult men at 1400 Blondell Avenue, one block from Westchester Square, by the NYC Department of Homeless Services, was confirmed on Wednesday January 29.
The unwelcome news was reported by Councilman Mark Gjonaj, Community Board 10 district manager Matt Cruz and Community Board 11 district manager Jeremy Warneke.
Councilman Gjonaj released a statement via social media that stated:
“I have been informed by the city of an intended proposal to place a 200-bed men’s shelter at 1400 Blondell Avenue in the 13th Council District. I will be fighting ‘tooth and nail’ on behalf of the community to prevent this from happening. As of right now, we are evaluating all options including zoning and others with Bronx community boards 10 and 11.”
Cruz later stated in an email, the potential shelter’s location on that block of Blondell is physically within CB 11’s district, however CB 10 represents the neighborhood of Westchester Square, making it both board’s responsibilities.
The vacant parcel, sits on the eastern side of Blondell, off Roberts Avenue in CB 11, but straddles CB 10.
According to CB 11’s monthly report, during an earlier meeting with Care for the Homeless executive director George Nashak, Warneke was told the mayor’s office assigned Nashak to find a site for a 200-bed men’s shelter. Some members of the community are not surprised by the city’s actions.
They feel the underdeveloped area is extremely vulnerable to residential development of any kind.
“The property, being towards the end of Blondell, has no police presence and it’s in a commercial area,” John Bonizio, of the Westchester Square Business Improvement District, said.
He suspects the city’s selection of this particular site was guided by the mayor’s ulterior motive to punish a certain elected official who has bumped heads with him over the last two years.
“I think there’s no coincidence that this shelter is sited around the corner from Councilman Mark Gjonaj’s office because the mayor doesn’t like him,” Bonizio said.
The director of Westchester Square/Zerega Avenue Improvement Organization, Sandi Lusk, said she has no doubt the shelter will happen.
Lusk said the zoning in the area was changed in preparation for the upcoming affordable housing units, ‘Blondell Commons,’ that is set to be built one block north of Westchester Avenue. That project will set aside a portion of its units for formerly homeless veterans.
“Now the city is picking Westchester Square apart like a pack of vultures and all that’s going to be left is a skeleton,” Lusk said. “How much more does one community have to take?”
According to Gjonaj’s spokesperson, Reginald Johnson, the fight to block a shelter at 1400 Blondell Avenue might actually be helped by the Blondell Commons development, which will include a school.
Will the city put a homeless shelter filled with male transients a block or two away from a schoolyard full of young children?
The community will have a chance to publicly express its feelings at the next CB 10 and 11 full board meetings.