With plans to build a 200 bed, Men’s Assessment Center at 400 McGuinness Blvd. already under consideration by the NYC Department of Homeless Services (DHS), Alex Zablocki, Director of Community Relations for DHS will be presenting a discussion on the Department’s policies and the standing, open RFP process to which HELP USA, the organization seeking to manage the new shelter, responded. Larry Belinsky, President and CEO of HELP USA, has been invited to the meeting as well, but had not responded as of press time. The meeting, a joint committee meeting of CB 1’s Public Safety and Human Services Committees will be held at the Polish National Home at 261 Driggs Avenue at 6:00PM on September 27th.
This will be the first presentation to CB 1 regarding the shelter. Up to now, the only communication between HELP and CB 1 has been two letters, one notifying the Board of the intent to develop the shelter and the other declining an invitation from CB 1 Chair Chris Olechowski to present their plans at a CB 1 public meeting, saying they prefer to begin a dialogue after DHS renders a decision on their proposal.
Although there is very little publicly known about the proposal, not surprisingly, the plan for the proposed homeless shelter was met with strong community opposition. At least one Facebook page, Keep-Greenpoint-Moving-Forward, was launched to organize protesters against the proposed shelter.
Most frequently, residents voiced their concerns that the shelter would bring increased crime to Greenpoint. Even though 400 McGuinness is located in a mainly industrial area of Greenpoint, many commuters, a large number of whom walk or bike across the Pulaski Bridge, will pass the shelter on their way to and from the bridge.
A second major concern is that HELP USA cannot prioritize treatment of Greenpoint’s homeless ahead of homeless from the rest of the city. So if a homeless person appeals to DHS for assistance DHS will send them to whatever homeless shelter has space, regardless of their current location. The fear is that many of the shelter’s residents will add to Greenpoint’s already sizable homeless population if they are unable to obtain permanent housing.
Finally, several residents feel the city has used Greenpoint as a dumping ground for too many of their undesirable projects, (e.g. the wastewater treatment plant) without returning nearly enough in community benefit projects to compensate for them and many find the idea of another homeless shelter – there are currently 2 shelters located in the neighborhood, the Barbara Cleiman Residence on Skillman Avenue and The Peter Jay Sharp Center for Opportunity on Porter Avenue – a tough pill to swallow.
Some community residents believe the protesters should wait to get all the facts about the shelter before making their decisions about the project. Ann Kansfield, Pastor of the Greenpoint Reformed Church recognizes the “already significant population of homeless in Greenpoint who are drawn here because of the Polish ethnic and cultural aspects, especially the language.” She adds that “The City needs to provide services in a way that addresses the unique needs of our neighborhood.” Kansfield believes that if more members of Greenpoint’s Polish community sought training and employment in the treatment of the homeless it could convince more of the local homeless population to seek assistance.
For their part, HELP USA has noted that the proposed Center will have extensive security provided by both HELP USA and DHS Police Officers, which will ensure the safety of both the clients and the surrounding neighborhood. They also cite a track record of over 24 years of providing short-term, transitional housing for the homeless featuring employment services and a rapid re-housing program, in which they help their shelter residents locate and move into permanent and affordable housing.
HELP USA is a public-private partnership that provides homeless services at 19 residential communities in the NY metropolitan area. HELP was founded in 1986 by NYS Attorney General and gubernatorial frontrunner Andrew Cuomo who ran the organization until 1993 when he became Assistant Secretary of HUD (he became Secretary in 1997 under President Clinton). Since 1993 the organization has been headed by Maria Cuomo Cole, Andrew’s sister.
Protesters will surely be present at the Community Board meeting on the 27th, although some believe protesting at DHS would be more useful and others believe the homeless shelter has already been approved and is just awaiting rubber stamping, perhaps as a result of those trying to curry favor with the apparent governor-elect, and that the time for protesting is past and the time for demanding real community benefits in exchange for hosting another homeless shelter is now.