Letter: Westchester Square can’t handle another homeless shelter

Photo Todd Maisel

To the Editor, 

The following is an open letter sent to District Manager Jeremy Warneke of Community Board 11 and printed at the request of its author.

It is with great consternation that we read in the local newspaper about a second 200-bed SRO for homeless single men to be built at 2443 Poplar St., on the fringes of Westchester Square, as there is already a plan for DHS to build an exact twin 200-bed shelter for single men on Blondell Avenue, not even a mile away (a 4-minute drive or 13 minutes walking distance also on the fringes of Westchester Square). These are both in close proximity to another family shelter already on St. Peter’s Avenue in Westchester Square. All three shelters are run by the city.

For many years we have been working to improve the residential and business — along with the Westchester BID — environment, and in so doing have learned a lot about the siting of various city and state social service facilities, of which Westchester Square has always shouldered much more than its share of the burden.

We understand about the Fair Share criteria established in 1995 that certain criteria must be taken into account when placing Article 9 facilities, such as homeless shelters, which are not subject to the ULURP process, thus not requiring a public comment or hearing period.

The siting of a duplicate 200-bed SRO for homeless single men within walking distance of another, both city facilities serving the exact same population, we feel is oversaturation and does not comply with the Fair Share criteria:

“Minimal concentration of residential facilities in surrounding neighborhood*.”

From:  FAIR SHARE, An Assessment of New York City’s Facility Siting Process

A Report to the Mayor and The City Planning Commission 1995. Page 64 Citywide Statement of Needs for Fiscal Year 1995-1996.

Fairness of siting:

“Under pressure from NIMBYs, elected officials are more likely to continue to site shelters, as well as other LULUs, in areas where residents have less political power, time, and money to protest.”

And:

“In contrast, enacting a modified fair share approach in which new shelters are placed in under-concentrated areas [note they do not specify Community Boards] while retaining the shelters currently located in over-concentrated areas allows for flexibility in placing shelter residents according to their individualized needs.”

From: Halmi A. “Siting Homeless Shelters in New York City: Fair Share Versus Borough-Based.” Fordham Urban Law Journal. 2020;47(5); Article 8

Volume 47 Number 5 Article 8.

“The criteria shall be designed to further the fair distribution among communities of the burdens and benefits associated with city facilities, consistent with community needs for services and efficient and cost-effective delivery of services and with due regard for the social and economic impacts of such facilities upon the areas surrounding the sites.”

Article 203 of the City Charter; Criteria for location of city facilities.

And: Fair Share Criteria:

[Core goal 1] To site facilities equitably by balancing the considerations of community needs for services, efficient and cost-effective service delivery, and the social, economic, and environmental impacts of City facilities upon surrounding areas.

[Core goals 6 and 7]

  1. Lessen disparities among communities in the level of responsibility each bears for facilities serving Citywide or regional needs;
  2. Preserve the social fabric of the City’s diverse neighborhoods by avoiding undue concentrations of institutional uses in residential areas

From: “DOWN AND OUT: How New York City Places Its Homeless Shelters.” Published by the New York City Comptroller’s Office; May 2013

We strongly feel the siting of these two 200-bed shelters so close together in one community [Westchester Square is one community although trisected by three community board boundary lines; although the two shelters are technically situated in Community Board 11, closely abutting CB 9 and 10, this fact should not be used to obfuscate the real issue of community impact] meets the oversaturation test and is clearly not consistent with the Fair Share criteria.

Westchester Square has enough of a burden for a 2-mile area. Enough is enough. The first shelter on Blondell Avenue will have enough of a detrimental effect on Westchester Square. Placing another one almost next to this one on Poplar Street, which is a residential area, is unconscionable and will surely be the death knell for the Square. Unfair doesn’t even begin to describe it. This shelter should not be built there.

Sandi Lusk,

Westchester Square Zerega Improvement Organization, Inc.

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