38-unit shelter opens

Some believe that this new building at 1564 St. Peter’s Avenue housing homeless may serve a deserving population, but it is still another social service program in an area that has become oversaturated with similar facilities. Photo by Robert Benimoff

Transient housing has been thrust upon the Zerega community with little prior notification from the Department of Homeless Services.

A 38-unit apartment building at 1564 St. Peter’s Avenue, recently completed by Gormally Construction, is being leased to the city for homeless housing. The city has contracted with Basic Housing Inc. to provide services and housing to homeless families with children for three to six month intervals. About 10 families have already moved in, and will live there until they transfer to permanent housing.

A meeting will be held at Community Board 10’s office at 3165 E. Tremont Avenue at 3 p.m. on Friday, August 28 to discuss the shelter. Councilman Jimmy Vacca said that the Department of Homeless Services informed him about a week ago that the property was now accepting homeless families.

“The Department of Homeless Services did not give anyone official notice that they were moving homeless families into the community [prior to it happening,]” Vacca said. “We were never given the opportunity to make the case that Westchester Square and Zerega is already oversaturated with group homes and social services.”

During a site visit on Monday, August 24, Vacca noted that the bedrooms in the building were very small, and the kitchens very simple, leading him to suspect that the builder might have had the idea of homeless housing in mind for some time.

Some believe the project could jeopardize the ongoing revitalization of the Westchester Square.

“Putting a homeless shelter in this area with the development of a Business Improvement District so far along is going to undo all the good that has been done over the last two years,” said John Bonizio, president of the Association of Merchants and Business Professionals of Westchester Square. “It’s a completely irresponsible decision.”

Commissioner David Hess of the Department of Homeless Services contends that the agency did provide the community with ample notification.

“In mid- to late-July we received a proposal from the sponsoring organization that includes a letter of notification from the community board,” Hess said.

However, Hess also said that he first spoke with Councilman Vacca about the issue on August 5 when it was still unclear whether the shelter would open. CB 10 district manager Kenneth Kearns said that the board only got involved after Vacca asked for its involvement.

“The community board received notification well after Councilman Vacca received it and we went to worked swiftly with the councilman’s office to dissuade DHS from putting people into the building,” Kearns said. “DHS said that we were going to have a meeting with us, and then moved people in before we were able to have the discussion. Government is about process, and the process was not adhered to here.”

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