Homeless youth facility coming to Westchester Square

“We’re treading in waters we’ve never been in before,” CB10 District Manager Matt Cruz
File photo

The Zerega community is anticipating the arrival of Covenant House, a well-known program that concentrates on runaway youth, at 1550 St. Peters Avenue.

Anticipated to open in mid-February, the three floor, recently rehabilitated building will become the temporary home to 30 boys and 10 girls from the ages 16 to 21, most of whom come from the Bronx, and have lived in a Covenant House’s 120-bed homeless shelter, according to spokesperson representing the sponsor.

Twenty will be housed on the third floor with the balance evenly divided between the first and second floors, situated at no more than thrre to a room. Additional services will be provided on floors 1 and 2.

While news of the transistional homeless shelter is not creating a tremendous uproar from its host community, members of Community Board 10 have expressed concerns about the lack of transparency shown by Covenant House.

“Neither the board or Councilman Mark Gjonaj’s office had been notified of the plan,” said CB10 district manager Matt Cruz.

This facility will be the first homeless youth shelter within CB10’s confines, according to Cruz.

“We’re treading waters we’ve never been in before,” he said.

Cruz explained the siting of the facility is ‘as of right,’ and does not require a public hearing or the board’s input. The program is funded with city and federal money.

“With that said, we do have respectful reservations because Covenant House hasn’t reached out much to the board and we will likely hold a hearing on this anyway because of it’s importance to the community,” Cruz added.

Some of the reservations expressed by CB10 are the economic effects that Covenant House will have on Westchester Square and surrounding communities.

Cruz specifically noted concerns about the new facility’s close proximity to The Pearly Gates Park on Tratman Avenue.

That park has been subject to frequent vandalism, dangerous gang activity and shootings, hence concerns from CB about the Covenant House location.

Covenant House is expected to meet with CB10, Gjonaj, Assemblyman Michael Benedetto and representatives from the 45th Precinct to discuss community concerns, with an emphasis on safety issues.

“We want to be fair and hear their side, we hope they intend to work with us and extend clear communication from here on,” Cruz said.

At it’s best, Covenant House will provide homeless youth with holistic supportive programming, including an onsite federally-qualified health clinic; full-time psychiatric and psychological services; a day treatment program; employment and education services including onsite GED and vocational classes; legal services; an anti-human trafficking unit to provide expert support to affected youth; and a wide array of youth development activities including onsite recreational and fitness programming and offsite trips.

Once adolescents complete the approximately 18-month program they can enter Covenant House’s transitional living program while being phased into early adulthood.

Called ‘Rights of Passage’, the program is focused on serving young men and women in their efforts to establish a career, advance education, as well as secure permanent and stable housing.

The Zerega location will receive federal support under the Joint Transitioned Rapid Rehousing Program.

The corner property was once used as a storage facility for patient records when Westchester Square Hospital was in operation.

Covenant House New York’s main base of operation is in Manhattan at 460 W. 41st Street, adjacent to the Port Authority Bus Terminal for runaway teenagers. Many of the youth scheduled to occupy the St. Peters facility are also runaways who left their families because their sexual orientation was not accepted at home.

The Westchester Square location sits near a transit hub, where the Bx4, Bx4A, Bx21, and Bx31 all stop in addition to the #6 IRT line, providing excellent mass transit options for the youth as they acquire employment.

“I think the transit options definitely played into the selection of this location,” said executive director of the Westchester Square Business Improvement District Lisa Sorin.

In addition to Covenant House’s Bronx expansion, the non-profit also runs a homeless shelter in the south Bronx in Assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo’s district. Her district office and Convenant House have had little-to-no interaction since it opened, an Arroyo aide said.

Covenant House logo.

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