Hundreds of residents and merchants in Westchester Square and Zerega have vowed to fight in the streets and courts against a “stealth shelter” they feel is being dumped on the area without notification or a fair share analysis – as required by law.
243 residents, merchants, and elected officials came to the Westchester Square Public Library on Saturday, September 12 for an “organizational meeting” to fight a new homeless shelter at 1564 St. Peter’s Avenue. Residents said it opened at night without conducting saturation analysis hearings or community board notification because of a Department of Homeless Services self-proclaimed “state of emergency.”
DHS has a day-by-day agreement to operate the shelter in a recently constructed apartment building that includes 38 units. 11 homeless families have already moved in. The city is paying Basic Housing, Inc. $90 per day to house each family, but has no contract for this location, possibly violating the City Charter. The shelter is one of 22 social service providers in Westchester Square-Zerega’s 40 square blocks.
“Between my husband, myself and our families, we have over 145 years of living in this neighborhood,” said longtime resident Hanna Acampora. “This was a misguided plan. As a homeowner, I am outraged. Every time that you are asked to tighten your belt, remember that your tax dollars are being used to pay $2,700 a month to house each homeless family.”
Hundreds believe the neighborhood is oversaturated with similar facilities, driving down property values, and forcing middle-class families to leave because of a lack of market-rate rents. Councilman Jimmy Vacca presided over the meeting.
“This is just the beginning of our fight, but I already think we’re sending a clear message that the Westchester Square Zerega community is not going to back down,” Vacca said. “We consider the opening of this facility as an ambush, plain and simple, but the Department of Homeless Services continues to totally disregard our pleas to spare a neighborhood that has become a dumping ground for social services of every kind. Today, I and hundreds of residents from the Bronx call on the mayor to stand up and stop this injustice.”
DHS opened the shelter only three days before notifying elected officials like Vacca, Senator Jeff Klein, and Assemblyman Michael Benedetto, who all spoke at the meeting. The shelter opened on August 21, but it wasn’t until a week later when representatives from DHS met with the local community.
Hundreds signed a form letter to the mayor, describing the homeless shelter as “a fatal nail in the coffin” of the neighborhood – which already has drug-treatment centers, outpatient mental health, and a school for troubled youth.
Westchester Square merchants and homeowners have started a legal defense fund and retained former Assemblyman Steve Kaufman as their lawyer.