Community rallies against homeless shelter

Left to Right: CB 11 District Manager Jeremy Warneke, CB11 Chairman Al D'Angelo, Councilman Mark Gjonaj, Attorney John Parker, and CB10 Chairman Joseph Russo sit on a panel at Jacobi Hospital's Rotunda Monday night to hear the public's feedback on the proposed homeless shelter at 1400 Blondell Avenue.
Photo courtesy of Councilman Mark Gjonaj's office

Words of frustration, rage and despair poured from the mouths of Community Board 10 and 11 residents opposing the 200-bed men’s homeless shelter set to be built at 1400 Blondell Avenue.

In response to the news of the homeless shelter, Community Board’s 10 and 11, Councilman Mark Gjonaj along with Assemblyman Mike Benedetto scheduled a community town hall Monday evening to discuss what officials plan to do and to hear the public’s concerns.

Community Board 11 District Manager Jeremy Warneke, CB 11 Chairman Al D’Angelo, Attorney John Parker and CB 10 Chairman Joseph Russo were onstage to answer the public’s questions.

However, no representatives from the shelter provider ‘Care for the Homeless’ or the City Department of Homeless Services were present at the meeting.

According to the email sent by Human Resources to CB11, there are 394 households comprised of 841 individuals from CB11 in shelters across the city.

The crowd roared questioning if those numbers are accurately accounted for individuals from the community or if the last known address was one of the area’s hospitals.

The email from the provider to CB11 outlined what services they offer, and crucial aspects like planned security within and around the facility. According to the email, there would be a 10 p.m. curfew put in place for those living at the shelter.

Gjonaj explained the zoning of the property for the shelter is ‘as of right’ with its M1-1 zoning.

Gjonaj added he has been in contact with the property owner who was unaware of the developer’s intention when he signed the paperwork because of its vague description, however, the deal has yet to be closed.

“This is as proactive as you possibly get, there’s no deal, there’s been no meeting, there’s no contract at play, and we’re going to do our best to make sure that contract doesn’t close,” Councilman Gjonaj said.

Gjonaj and Parker, who specializes in environmental and land use cases, laid out some options and tools available to officials and the community in fighting against the shelter.

One favorable factor would be possibility of Metro North’s plan to add a Westchester Square stop because Metro North will scope and rezone the entire area.

Other factors included the area being in a flood zone along with the various scoping studies like visibility, environmental impact and site characteristics.

Parker also informed attendees how local leaders intend on making sure the city agencies are transparent and clear on what they are doing throughout the entire process.

Parker also mentioned a fair share analysis after hearing residents having feelings of resentment towards the city for being overburdened. The Bronx is the second smallest borough, but is home to the most shelters.

Most public outcry at the town hall came from residents and members of the Westchester Square BID, claiming all the investment and improvements to the area will be squandered.

Westchester Square BID Executive Director Yasmin Cruz said $3 million has been invested into the area and it has helped substantially, yet the square still faces many issues including violence.

Cruz added in the past year, the opening of a shelter for mentally disturbed women near the square has cost the BID time and resources to pay for added security.

“To put this on top of the problems that already exist, it’s just going to break the camel’s back,” Cruz said.

Sandi Lusk echoed the same message, saying she worked hard with the BID and merchants in the area to create what they have.

“And now If they put this shelter one block away from Westchester Square, there are already 198 homeless men (so I believe) that are in Bronx State, and they hang out in Westchester Square,” Lusk exclaimed. “There will be 400 homeless men one block away from Westchester Square!” “Everything we have achieved will be destroyed and you’re going to have Blondell Commons, the goal was to have children, families living there, who is going to want to move there with children?”

An unnamed resident of Blondell Ave. questioned if those said families to move into Blondell Commons would even be notified of the shelter if it were to happen and also emphasizing there are existing families on the street.

After hearing numerous accounts of interactions with the homeless, Councilman Gjonaj said he would be drafting a letter to higher city officials to discourage the developer and asking his political colleagues to use their influence to stop the possibility of the shelter.

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