Highbridge protests 200-bed men’s homeless shelter

Residents of Highbridge are fuming over the opening of a 200-bed men’s homeless shelter.

A group of concerned citizens held a press conference outside of the facility, the men’s “Stadium” at 1260 Sedgwick Avenue, on Wednesday, January 6. They are calling on the Department of Homeless Services and sponsor Basics to turn it back into a shelter for women and children, as had previously operated at the location before October 2010. A transition to housing homeless men was complete by mid-November.

Elected officials, including Councilwoman Helen Diane Foster, are also calling on the DHS to return the former population to the shelter.

Community members have claimed a series of negative encounters with the population of homeless men at the shelter, who suffer from health and drug-abuse issues. Foster said that she learned that the shelter was housing men on the day of its re-opening.

“I wrote to the Department of Homeless Services on December 22 and to Basics Housing on December 9 as to the lack of prior notification and the equity and fairness of placing the men’s shelter in the community,” Foster said. “I wrote about the security concerns of the community, and asked questions about the clients’ health, mental illness, drug abuse, and sex offender status. I have still not received an answer to my letter from Commissioner Diamond of the Department of Homeless Services or from Basics.”

At the press conference, residents voiced opposition to the shelter. They spoke of homeless men cat-calling at women and children that they believe are from the shelter. They also claim to see the men sleeping in hallways of buildings if they miss the 10 p.m. curfew and hanging out in streets and parks.

To add insult to injury, a middle school is planned for construction, beginning in 2013, almost directly across the street from the facility on East 167th Street.

“The residents had to fight for a school across the street because we wanted one,” said Zonia Ortiz, who has lived in the community for decades. “The things that we do not want, we are freely given.”

A greater part of the burden must be shared by other communities under the city’s fair share rules, said Community Board 4 district manager Jose Rodriguez. In his district, there are 29 transitional living facilities and 13 shelters.

“The community quite frankly is livid about this facility opening without prior notice or proper dialogue with the community,” Rodriguez said. “However, we have to realize that we are dealing with a homeless housing issue that we are legally mandated to address.”

DHS maintains it made the right move bringing a new population into the building. The facility has housed the homeless for years.

“The Department of Homeless Services has a legal mandate to provide shelter to eligible families and single adults in need,” said DHS spokeswoman Heather Janik. “The Stadium, or 1260 Sedgwick Avenue, has been serving homeless clients for 15 years and the agency must make judicious use of all its capacity as demand changes. Our current operation of facilities for single adults conforms with all applicable state and local law.”

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