A men’s shelter is opening at East 165th Street and Park Avenue, and Morrisania residents are saying “why in our neighborhood? And why next to our school?”
On Thursday, July 14, the Morrisania Concerned Citizens Coalition held a protest to fight back against the shelter’s impending unveiling. Both coalition and community members expressed the sentiment that it would negatively impact the neighborhood as a whole, and saw positioning it directly adjacent to J.H.S. 145 as an affront.
The three-story shelter will have 200 beds. J.H.S. 145, meanwhile, houses three different schools with 1,200 students in grades five through eight at Teller Avenue and East 165th Street, literally across the street from the shelter’s back entrance.
Exacerbating the situation is the fact that it is a “transitional” facility, meaning it can be used to house ex-offenders who are recently released from prison. To Patrick Kelly, principal of M.S. 325 inside of J.H.S. 158, the two do not go together.
“It’s about security,” he said at the protest. “Providing for the safety of the kids is always a concern when you have a school.”
Kelly, like the rest of the approximately 50 other protestors, did not dispute the necessity of shelters. The protest was all about location.
“Socially, we’re very sympathetic,” Kelly said. “We recognize that the city is legally and morally required to provide these services, but from a planning standpoint, this doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
James Jackson, president of the MCCC and a minister at Mount Lebanon Baptist Church at350 E. 165th Street organized the protest. It was the fourth since February, and perhaps the most urgent, since he knew the shelter would open its doors at any moment.
“We’ve met with the Department of Homeless Services, we’ve met with Community Board 4, we’ve met with (Public Advocate) Bill de Blasio’s office,” Jackson said. “We feel like we have a unique situation here, and that’s our school.”
Several other Bronx communities have been fighting back against homeless shelters, but ultimately, only the mayor has any real power in the situation.
Jim Fairbanks, chief of staff for Councilwoman Helen Foster, attended the protest. He said his office sides with the protestors, and that Foster has introduced legislation that would restrict where shelters can be placed but he said the bill is “not going anywhere.”
“Of course we’re protesting,” Fairbanks said. “But the mayor’s the mayor. If he wants to do it, he can.”
Jackson said the goal the protests is to increase pressure on the city to be more judicious in choosing shelter location.
“It’s public awareness,” he said. “So DHS will stop indiscriminate placement of this maybe well-needed facility.”
The Bronx houses approximately 40 percent of the city’s homeless shelters, according to Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.’s office. In an e-mail to the Bronx Times, a DHS spokesperson said it is fulfilling its obligation to provide housing and wants to work in harmony with local groups.
As of Tuesday, July 19 the shelter had not yet opened.