New York City just hit a milestone you might not have heard about. The amount of homeless people living in shelters is 57,665 people – a new record. According to a report released in October, New York’s homeless population grew last year, with almost 68,000 people without a permanent residence–all this while the number of luxury apartments for sale in Manhattan doubled in the last year. Meanwhile, homelessness is down across the country.
In the wake of this new reality, New York City’s Department of Homeless Services (DHS) announced a new homeless shelter will open in Greenpoint at 58-66 Clay Street. The shelter will be operated by Home Life Services, Inc. and will shelter 91 homeless adult families. A timeline for opening has not been set.
Last year I sat in a community meeting at Greenpoint Church on Milton St and listened to neighbors argue for and against the 10 bed homeless respite that had opened in the basement after Hurricane Sandy hit and the weather was getting down to freezing temperatures.
After the controversy it created, the church decided to shut it down and it moved to Ascension Church a few block north. But the respite did not reopen this winter season. Continue reading →
Another reader concerned about safety in Greenpoint wrote in to tell me of an incident in which she was recently kicked by a homeless man on Manhattan Ave:
I wanted to make the Greenpointers aware of something that happened to me today that was concerning in regards to the safety of our neighborhood. I was standing in front of Champion Coffee on the phone when a homeless man came galloping down the street speaking loudly to himself. All of a sudden her turned towards we and kicked me in the leg so hard that I went sprawiling into the building. Next he pushed another woman down into the street and turned the corner onto Dupont Street where he proceeded, I am told, to hit trash cans, pull recycling bags out into the street sending broken glass all around.
When the neighborhood police showed up about 10 minutes later, they took my statement and told methat the man who accosted me lives at the new homeless shelter at the end of Clay Street. Fortunately they took him to the precinct for evaluation. They also informed me that the shelter is contributing to other problems in the neighborhood. More cars are getting broken into and if one of the residents does not get back to the shelter by 10:00 p.m when they lock the doors, he ends up wandering throughout the neighborhood all night.
I know that homeless people need to have shelters and I support having shelters in the city obviously, but they also need to be run so that the neighborhoods where they are built are safe. I have lived in this neighborhood for 13 years. I have always felt fairly safe. I no longer feel this way.
I would like others to know what happened to me, so that they can be aware of one more example of how our neighborhood has become less safe.
On Thursday 1/24, a crowd of nearly forty Greenpointers gathered at Greenpoint Church to discuss the recently opened Homeless Respite. Pastor Ann asked that all press and bloggers reveal the publication and keep off the record comments off the record. It was a neighborly forum and while the night had some very difficult and uncomfortable moments, important progress was made.
(For the record, no one spoke off the record, but I did not directly quote or identify residents.)
First and most importantly, ten homeless men, our neighbors, would sleep in warm beds on an 18 degree night without the risk of freezing to death. This is a good thing.
Second, issues of communication, a big concern for Milton St residents, was discussed (loudly, with some yelling) and promises were made for improvement. More open meetings to discuss the impact of the church’s services on the residents of Milton St will be scheduled.
When it was my turn to introduce myself, I said, “I am in attendance first as a member of the church and next representing Greenpointers.” I write this blog post from the same position. I am not an unbiased reporter. I openly support the efforts the church makes to care for those who would otherwise be left to go hungry or sleep in the cold. That being said I will do my best to be sympathetic to the residents of Milton St who are opposed to the shelter and share the burden as well. Continue reading →
Sorry for this last minute update (I was in Florida for 2 weeks!), but tonight Thursday, 1/24 at 7pm at Greenpoint Reformed Church (136 Milton St) there will be an open forum, the first of many, to discuss the recently opened homeless respite at the church. All are welcome but I spoke to Pastor Ann and she wants to keep the meeting as constructive and positive.
So put down your pitch forks and bring you manners, people! See you there!
And if you miss it, don’t worry there will be more.
This is a very important and illuminating comment written by Fr. John Merz of Ascension Church regarding the recently opened Homeless Respite on Milton St that has received a lot of attention from the community. An open meeting will be held at a to be announced date:
I am the Reverend John Merz, Episcopal Priest and Vicar of the Church of the Ascension on Kent Street. I want to say at the outset that I would prefer this conversation happen in a congenial public forum rather than internet discussion boards, a phenomenon which as one of my bemused foreign seminary classmates labeled “assertion boards.” This format tend to ruffle feathers and peter out rather than produce consensus or reconciliation. That being said there are some simple facts that need to be cleared up.
First off, if there are any issues with the claim of “secrecy” then people need to take them up with me. I served on the homeless task force along with many other local clergy and residents. As Ann mentioned she was gone from the task force over the last 12 months. Furthermore under no circumstance did Councilman Levin or Rev. Kansfield obscure or try to do anything “in secret” or “get anything by” the community. The fact is that the 10 bed respite program (not a shelter, there are, in fact, significant differences) was to be housed at my church right until the very last minute. Period. I think that kind of innuendo about people’s character and honesty ought to come to a close straightaway.
Numerous times I met with high-level people at DHS and neither Rev. Kansfield or Councilman Levin were present. Once things had been worked out–the funding and politics of how this deal would take place, where it would be housed (Ascension)—there was no need to have Councilman Levin in on the day to day negotiations between myself and the City and Common Ground as we literally shifted pennies from this line to that to see how it could work
The intruding issue was that for well over a year I had been in an endlessly stalled development deal for two upper stories of our parish hall. In order for the respite bed program to take place at our church City and Common Ground needed certain assurances that there could be geographical consistency. It was my hope that were the development deal were to take place it still would give us enough time to house the program for the six cold months so we averted anymore deaths like we have had in the past and perhaps bring some people into a better state.
Late October it looked as if our deal might go through though nothing was be set in stone, nothing signed. Quickly I informally spoke to two other local churches as to see in the event we had to make a last minute switch could it be done. Approvals came through in late October. As Sandy hit, besides putting up the homeless at Ascension there were emergency meetings of a few task force members to see what we could do to relocate the program asap as the cold was going to set in. That is when Reformed stepped up, not to run it, but to house it.
Again, one point that needs to be made clear is that this is not Ann Kansfield’s program, this is a community based, broad ranging effort, over four years in the making. I do believe we did our best though no doubt improvements could be made. There is no doubt that if we use our common energy, engage the best of our common humanity we can find a way to make this program work, change people’s lives for the better and, perhaps even more importantly begin to address the larger issues of why in such a wealthy city there are 50,000 people homes and 20,000 of those the age of our own children. With patience and care I have faith that these concerns can be worked through.
The Reverend John Merz
Church of the Ascension, Vicar
If you live in Greenpoint, you are aware of the homeless population. As it gets considerably colder, the need for warm shelter is of great importance.
I recently received an email from a concerned resident on Milton St regarding a newly opened shelter at the Greenpoint Reformed Church, who has witnessed and heard stories about public urination and defecation on the block as well as smashed liquor bottles and a man sleeping in her front yard.
Despite this she, ”fear[s] that there will never be an acceptance of the services that the church provides, unless they move off Milton St.”
She referred a neighbor to me, a homeowner who started a task force against the shelter, who despite reaching out to me, failed to answer my questions.
How would you feel about a homeless shelter on your block? What if your block was as pretty as Milton where the property values are in the multimillions? A drunk man vomiting on your lawn isn’t so pretty. “Not in my backyard!” Then where?
How about in your own home?
Ann Kansfield, pastor of Greenpoint Church, who lives above the church and the homeless shelter explained the situation:
The situation is a little more complicated than just “we have a homeless shelter at the church” … In a nutshell, it’s a 10-bed program operated by Common Ground on behalf of the City for LOCAL homeless folks. This was in response to many people’s demands that “the city do something” about local Polish homelessness. The total cost for the entire program is $100,000, the bulk of which goes to pay for two full-time employees being present with the men at all times. The city is only reimbursing the church for building-related costs to host the program. This amounts to 44% of utilities and some small expenses related to hiring someone to clean each day. This is no “windfall” for us.
In a recent 94th Community Council Meeting, as recorded by New York Shitty, Stephen Levin spoke about the shelter and said it wasn’t Ann or Jen’s (co-pastor) “idea,” rather they offered the space after the community asked for it years back. He went on to explain that it is unique for the city to fund a church shelter, which are usually volunteer, and in this case a professional staff supervises the residents.
What are your thoughts on the newly opened shelter on Milton St?
Greenpoint has a very evident street homeless population. It is important for the city to understand how many homeless people are living in our neighborhood to evaluate how effective their strategies are. Polish speaking volunteers are especially needed.
Email from DHS:
“The Department of Homeless Services (DHS) conducts the Homeless Outreach Population Estimate (HOPE) survey, every year to find a point-in-time estimate of the number of unsheltered homeless individuals in New York City. This year HOPE will take place on Monday, January 30, 2012.
DHS needs 3,000 volunteers to make HOPE 2012 a success, and the participation of our fellow city colleagues is very important. I encourage those who have volunteered before to sign up again, and for first-time volunteers to experience how truly gratifying a night of HOPE can be. Volunteers commit to assist us overnight on Monday, January 30, 2012 from 10:30 pm until 4:00 am.
HOPE is critical to helping DHS evaluate the effectiveness of our current strategies to overcome street homelessness as well as developing appropriate housing resources for the most vulnerable New Yorkers currently living without shelter. HOPE’s methodology has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as the gold standard and I am proud to say that this is in large part due to your help.
Registration for HOPE can be found on the DHS homepage, at www.nyc.gov/dhs, or CityShare. Questions regarding this event can also be sent to the HOPE Team at HOPE@dhs.nyc.gov or by calling 212-607-5366.”
On August 19th, The Brooklyn Eaglespeculated that an empty building near the northernmost point of McGuinness Blvd in Brooklyn had been bought by a developer, Triumph Hotels, in the knowledge that the building would likely be bought by the city to be made into a homeless man’s shelter. The residents of Greenpoint – and Councilman Steve Levin, and Assemblyman Joe Lentol – have, after all, been protesting the idea for months.
Previously, Steve Levin had said of the idea that the neighborhood “as a community [is] inundated with services that we provide to the rest of the city … on a level that no other neighborhood has to do.”
Activists and politicians have pointed out that, in care for the homeless and struggling alone, Greenpoint organizations have attempted to care for the neighborhood’s already large homeless population, through: the Greenpoint Reformed Church, Most Holy Trinity, Community Board 1, and the Outreach Project – not to mention the Greenpoint Hotel and the three-quarter house on Clay Street.
On the 22nd, The Real Deal reported City Comptroller John Liu’s office as stating that, “a fair, transparent and equitable siting process” would occur.
…And speaking of sharing: a recent article on DNA Info reported on protests by UES residents against an upgrade to the already existing garbage facility at 91st Street.
Writer Amy Zimmer points out that the upgrade is “intended to reduce the burden on neighborhoods in the outer boroughs, like the South Bronx and Williamsburg and Greenpoint, Brooklyn, that have a disproportionate number of trash facilities.”
When imagining the enormous number of waste transfer vehicles rumbling around Greenpoint’s and Williamsburg’s children at all hours, the idea that “Upper East Siders are outraged by the possibility of trucks rumbling just feet away from where their kids play ball” makes one envious. (Italics all mine.)
On May 1st at 2:30 pm there is going to be a rally protesting the proposed homeless shelter for 200 adult males. Everyone against placing this homeless shelter in our neighborhood please attend. Council Member Stephen Levin, Assemblyman Joe Lentol and Senator Martin Malave Dilan will also be there. The more people that attend will give us a better chance of fighting this.