Runaway youth shelter a concern: Gjonaj

Runaway youth shelter a concern: Gjonaj
The community meeting with Covenant House.
Councilman Mark Gjonaj’s office

Many residents in the Zerega community are uneasy regarding the anticipated arrival of a Covenant House-run facility, that predominantly deals with runaway youth, at 1550 St. Peters Avenue.

It’s not the concept of a youth homeless shelter that’s bringing tremendous anxiety from its host community, though. Councilman Mark Gjonaj along with members of Community Board 10 and others are unhappy with the lack of transparency shown by Covenant House.

“Neither the board or Councilman Mark Gjonaj’s office were notified (by the organization) of the plan,” said CB 10 district manager Matt Cruz.

“They say they’re coming here to be good neighbors, but that starts with notifying the community board and elected officials,” he added.

That concern is in addition to what Cruz described as ‘treading in waters that we’ve never been before,’ as Covenant House will be the first shelter in CB 10 specifically placed for youth.

After learning of Covenant House’s Bronx expansion, Gjonaj and CB 10 arranged a meeting with representatives from the non-profit on Tuesday, December 18.

“The city’s decision to unilaterally locate this program in the community without at the very least consulting the community board, civic associations, or myself, as the elected council member, is the latest step in this administration’s consistent and willful neglect of the considerations of our residents,” Gjonaj said as an explanation for the Covenant House meeting.

One major concern from neighbors and residents was the site’s location.

Youth crime statistics in the immediate vicinity of the shelter were high according to the 45th Precinct, leaving many puzzled by the Convenant House decision.

It will also sit in close proximity to The Pearly Gates Park on Tratman Avenue which has been a noted trouble spot.

In addition to relatively minor youth crime, that park has also been subject to frequent vandalism, dangerous gang activity and shootings, added community representatives.

With that stated, Covenant House personnel at the meeting responded that the organization has enough youth programming to address the community’s concerns regarding its clients general safety.

Some of those programs include 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.

The eye-opening number of programming stated by Convenant House rattled Cruz even more. He cited there are numerous public works and homeless programing already operating in the immediate area surrounding the new facility, such as those run by Montefiore and other agencies, to create a ‘cluster of programs’, a situation he opposed .

“Covenant House would be within a stone’s throw of another existing family shelter,” Cruz said.

CB 10 plans to hold a public town hall-style meeting for community residents to express their concerns. A City Hall representative will also be asked to attend the meeting.

While the date for the meeting has not been finalized, Gjonaj vowed to continue to fight on the community’s behalf.

Anticipated to open in mid-February, the three floor, recently rehabilitated building on the corner of Glebe Avenue, will become the temporary home to 30 males and 10 females between the ages 16 to 24, most of whom originally hailed from the Bronx, but have most recently lived in Covenant House’s 120-bed homeless shelter, according to spokesperson representing the sponsor.

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