Congressman Eliot Engel is lending his voice to a chorus of elected officials and community leaders opposing plans for homeless shelters in Wakefield.
Engel called on the Department of Homeless Services to change plans to locate two homeless shelters directly across the street from one another in written testimony against the awarding of contract to operate a 100-bed homeless shelter at 4380 Bronx Boulevard. The proposed shelter is directly across the street from the Muller Army Reserve Center, which is being eyed by the Doe Fund for a 200-bed shelter.
The congressman said that opening the two shelters across the street from one another, and a third 63-bed homeless facility planned nearby on White Plains Road, would decrease property values and drastically change the character of the area.
“I join the community in opposing these shelters,” Engel stated. “The organizations which will run these shelters, Project Renewal on Bronx Boulevard and the Doe Fund in the Muller Center, are fine organizations who do good work for and with the homeless. But introducing this number of homeless people into an area that already has a significant shelter program would disrupt the Wakefield section. The character of the neighborhood, a generally low-rise, low-density homeownership neighborhood, would be disproportionately affected and in a negative way.”
Engel is joining elected officials like Senator Jeff Klein, Assemblyman Jeff Dinowitz, Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., and Councilman Oliver Koppell in opposing plans for the Bronx Boulevard and Muller Center facilities. Engel stated that Wakefield is already doing its share to help the homeless. Under current plans, if all three shelters open, there would be 360 homeless beds in a 3-block radius.
Diaz and Koppell both have called on the Bloomberg administration and DHS in the past month to instead consider using the Muller Center to house a National Guard Unit currently stationed next to the Kingsbridge Armory. This would provide space for the construction of new schools in the Kingsbridge Heights community, to ease overcrowding.
“A better idea for the Muller Center, and the one supported by the community, is transferring the Kingsbridge Armory National Guard Unit there,” Engel said. “A second possibility is a community center to provide a setting for education, recreation, social events, human services, and lifelong learning activities to enhance the lives of community residents and to build a healthier, more cohesive community.”
Community Board 12 chairman Father Richard Gorman said that he believes that the close proximity of the shelters would never stand up a “Fair-Share Siting,” which the city might have to perform to make sure it was not locating too many community facilities in the same area if the facilities were city-run, instead of contracted out. Gorman said that Engel was an elected offical who was proposing common sense alternatives to the propsed plans.