DSS pulls plans for White Plains Road ‘bingo hall’ shelter following community pushback

white plains road shelter
The former bingo hall at 2028 White Plains Road was destined to become a men’s shelter, until the city pulled its plan on March 18.
Photo Adrian Childress

Plans for a third proposed single men’s shelter in the shelterless Community District 11 on White Plains Road have been canceled, following public uproar both over the shelter itself and the community board’s handling of the proposal.

Community Board 11 was notified of the planned 140-bed men’s shelter at 2028 White Plains Road in October, but purposefully waited until a change in city administrations to make a fuss, feeling complaints would have fallen on “deaf ears” under former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, board chair Albert D’Angelo said in an interview with the Bronx Times.

While the Department of Social Services’ Department of Homeless Services (DSS-DHS) didn’t provide a reason to CB11 — or to the Bronx Times — as to why they pulled the proposal via a letter to D’Angelo on Friday, the board chair believes it was due to three reasons: the community response, that this was the third men’s shelter planned for the district and that there is a planned school for three-year-olds next door. There are no immediate plans for an alternative site.

“We obviously made the right call,” D’Angelo said. “But it showed with time. I did question whether I was right or wrong, because I didn’t know, maybe I should have said it sooner, but I felt that we had the best shot with this new administration. … I took a lot of heat for it, but it worked out.”

The shelter, the former Bronxdale Bingo Hall, would have sat across from Brady Playground and Bronx Park East, a 3-minute walk to P.S. 105, with a planned 3-K early childhood education center right next door. It would have been operated by Westhab, a non-profit that was reported to have had more than 850 911 calls in less than two years at a Queens shelter it operates. In a Feb. 3 CB11 Housing Committee online meeting, Westhab spokesperson Jim Coughlin disputed the accuracy of the claim and said the shelter is doing well.

Combined with the proposed 200-bed 1346 Blondell Ave. shelter and 200-bed 2443 Poplar St. shelter — which was previously planned for Stillwell Avenue — the three new developments would have brought 540 beds for homeless men to Community District 11.

But what D’Angelo calls a group effort to halt the shelter wasn’t embraced by all.

Roxanne Delgado, the outspoken founder of Friends of Pelham Parkway, distributed what she said was 1,400 fliers with members of her group about the shelter, starting in January. The group blamed the community board for not holding public meetings about the shelter sooner. “After 3 months of inaction, the board is basically approving this shelter with NO community notice or input,” a flyer, seen hanging in an apartment building in January, read.

A flyer against the shelter plan hung in an apartment building in January encouraged residents to contact local council members.

But not all board members had stayed quiet.

Board member Bernadette Ferrara said in an Oct. 15 letter that there should be a town hall on the matter, and vice chair Yahay Obeid created an online petition that garnered 599 signatures demanding that no more shelters come to the community district.

Even after an in-person town hall — which D’Angelo and Delgado both said drew 200 people — that took place the same evening as the Feb. 3 online meeting, more than 15 constituents signed up to speak about the shelter at a Feb. 24 CB11 meeting.

Councilmember Oswald Feliz, who did not respond to requests for comment for this article, said at the Feb. 3 online meeting that the community — like people experiencing homelessness — has a lot of needs already.

“It’s not good policy to just concentrate needs upon needs,” the Fordham Democrat, whose district encompasses the shelter site said.

CB11 board member John Johnson, like the board chair, believes the new city administration has to do with the change of heart.

“Putting 540 single adult men’s beds in a district that had no shelter for years seems to be a bit too much,” he said.

But just last month, the city was still set on making the shelter happen.

At the Feb. 3 online meeting, DSS Deputy Commissioner Erin Drinkwater told CB11 that DHS is committed to pursuing all three men’s shelters when asked if the plans were set in stone.

According to Drinkwater, CB11 was notified of the Blondell Avenue shelter in January 2020, which is slated to open in 2024 — a delayed opening after the Department of Environmental Conservation found toxic chemicals and contaminants at a nearby abandoned auto yard. The Poplar Street shelter is planned to open in the first quarter of 2023.

In a statement to the Bronx Times, a DSS-DHS spokesperson said if the city determines the need for more shelter beds in the community in the future, it will identify an alternative site and will  “continue to openly engage the community, as we have always done,” echoing sentiments written in the letter to D’Angelo.

Liberty One, the developer and owner of the White Plains Road site since September, was planning on building renovations for the shelter. The Bronx Times reached out to Liberty One about alternative plans for the site and has not received a response. The New York Times published an investigation in December about Liberty One’s operator, David Levitan.

A sign on the building stating that it is for sale is outdated, one of the realtors told the Bronx Times.

Councilmember Marjorie Velázquez, a Throggs Neck Democrat, did not respond to requests for comment for this article, but she encouraged residents to speak out about the proposal at a Feb. 8 Pelham Parkway Neighborhood Association meeting about the shelter.

Reach Aliya Schneider at aschneider@schnepsmedia.com or (718) 260-4597. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes.

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