Elected officals want Wakefield homeless shelter closed after murder

Pictured are Kenny Agosto, representing Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson, Councilman Andy King; Councilman Andrew Cohen; Assemblyman Jeff Dinowitz and Community Board 12 chairman Fr. Richard Gorman at the press conference on Tuesday, April 30.
Community News Group / Photo by Patrick Rocchio

After the brutal murder of a young mother outside a homeless shelter, a host of elected officials and community leaders in Wakefield came together to call for the shelter’s immediate closure.

The death of shelter director Anna Charle, 36, who was gunned down near Project Renewal’s Bronx Boulevard residence for men, allegedly by a former client, has sparked outrage in the community over the shelter’s management and security.

Many in Wakefield, Woodlawn and Yonkers are now calling for the shuttering of Project Renewal’s Bronx Boulevard residence for men at 4380 Bronx Blvd.

Elected officials were united in their desire to have it closed at a press conference outside the shelter Thursday, April 30.

Charle was found with a gunshot wound to the head on the sidewalk not far from the shelter after leaving work about 5:45 p.m. on Monday, April 27.

Police arrested West Spruill, who was charged with murder and criminal possession of a weapon, according to the criminal complaint filed by District Attorney Robert Johnson.

Assemblyman Jeff Dinowitz said that officials deliberately withheld information before the shelter opened that many of the men to be housed there had been convicted of violent felonies.

“The tragic shooting that occurred near the Project Renewal homeless shelter on Monday highlights the major security concerns that we have repeatedly warned the Department of Homeless Services about,” he said. “This shelter came into Wakefield with no input from the community and over the objections of its residents.”

He pointed out there were numerous sex offenders living in the shelter and that it had strained the resources of the 47th Precinct with an influx of 911 calls since it opened.

“Project Renewal deals with an incredibly tough population with serious mental health issues, the formerly incarcerated, as well as registered sex offenders,” said Councilman Andrew Cohen. “This work cannot be done without adequate resources.”

Cohen said he had spoken in February with DHS Commissioner Gilbert Taylor to request more security at the Bronx Boulevard shelter, but that it was not until the intervention of Mayor de Blasio’s office two days after the murder that more peace officers were assigned.

Councilman Andy King urged people to remember Charle, and offered condolences to her family, but he also said that if the shelter cannot be run safely, it has to go.

Senator Jeff Klein called Charle’s death the latest in a string of heinous threats and serious safety concerns stemming from the shelter.

A group of homeless advocates stood outside the facility honoring the victim’s memory.
Community News Group / Photo by Patrick Rocchio

Fr. Richard Gorman, CB 12 chairman, said that DHS operates in an “incredibly incompetent and disingenuous manner.”

Many of the elected officials took issue with the number of homeless shelters either open or planned to open in Wakefield, indicating that there were too many for one community.

A service provider and advocacy group, Homeless Services United, staged its own vigil outside the shelter during the press conference.

“This is not a day for politics,” a statement released by the group said. “It is a day to give thanks for the life of Ana Charle and for the thousands of New Yorkers who work tirelessly every day in their commitment to end homelessness.”

Charle, a native of Spain, lived a quiet life in Whitestone, Queens and had two young daughters.

Neighbors of the shelter who attended the rally took a dim view of the facility.

“Right now my tenants want to move out because they have children,” said Orville Johnson, a property owner in the community.

The men from the 108-bed facility follow people around and beg for money, said Wakefield resident Suzie Durgaeersaud. Some of the men from the shelter have made her feel threatened, she added.

Men from the facility loiter at a closed gas station near the facility and make obscene comments to passing women and children, said Stanley Basdeo, who added that catcalls and other forms of harassment have scared his wife, who walks past them on her way home.

“The ladies are the ones who are being subjected to what is going on here,” he said. “They are the ones being chased and harassed.”

Local resident Maurice Faucette said the men there hang out in front of the facility, and they do not seem to have anything to do.

After the strong criticism of the shelter’s operations by local elected officials, the Coalition for the Homeless issued a sharp rebuke.

“Punishing the other residents of Project Renewal’s Bronx Boulevard Men’s Shelter by closing it down would be the worst response to this tragedy,” the coalition, a large homeless advocacy group, stated. “Rather than taking the easy way out, we need our elected officials to contribute to real solutions.”

Anna Charle
Photo courtesy of Queens Times Ledger

Reach Reporter Patrick Rocchio at (718) 260–4597. E-mail him at procchio@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @patrickfrocchio.

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