A new homeless shelter will be constructed in Greenpoint on 83 Apollo Street. According to the building permit filed this past December and approved in July, the shelter will be four stories tall and contain 97 units.
City Councilmember Stephen Levin revealed to Greenpointers that the social services organization Breaking Ground will run the shelter, which will provide Safe Haven housing for homeless individuals.
Not all shelters are created the same or serve the same purpose. Safe Haven housing is different from a permanent shelter or other types of congregant-style housing. In Breaking Ground’s own words, their Safe Haven shelters are “private, safe, clean, and affordable short-term accommodations” coupled with access to other social services. Levin calls Safe Haven “a much more effective model.”
Greenpoint is home to other types of shelters and temporary housing as well. The Greenpoint YMCA has stabilization beds, and the shelter on McGuinness Blvd and Clay Street is an assessment center intended for stays of only a few weeks.
Councilmember Levin is also the chair of the Council’s Committee on General Welfare, which oversees the Department of Homeless Services. “Breaking Ground is a pretty well-known entity in this community,” says Levin. “They have for a number of years the contract for providing street outreach in Brooklyn. So they know by name every person who is sleeping on the street in our community, and I know that for a fact because I’ve been working with them since before I got elected in 2009.”
Some residents have voiced their opposition to the project, citing safety concerns in conjunction with the other shelters in their neighborhood. Local Johanna Marquez created and distributed hundreds of flyers around the neighborhood to urge her neighbors to fight back and call their elected officials. She and other concerned locals have arranged meetups, created a private Facebook group, and a Change.com petition.
“If and when this homeless shelter is to be built, the invitation of mal-intended individuals will increase, leaving children and families who walk to/from school independently to be at greater risk for harm” the petition reads.
Others support the creation of a new shelter and think that the neighborhood should be more welcoming towards those in need, especially during a pandemic.
“I live next door to the Metropolitan hotel shelter and have never had any issues at all with the people living there (in fact my daughter was friends with a girl that lived there until she had to move because you can’t stay at any one shelter for more than a certain amount of time),” says Jennifer, a Greenpoint resident who asked that we not use her last name.
“But I have more problems with my neighbors in my ‘luxury building’ than I do with the residents of the homeless shelter. Being homeless does not make someone a bad neighbor. We need to support our community and make sure that the reasons they are homeless are addressed and well funded (mental health issues, job training, child care, etc). I understand and am empathic to people who are concerned because it sounds so scary but I think we need to be supportive of all our neighbors if we are going to find solutions to the issues within our community.”
Greenpoint locals might feel a sense of deja vu as a similar debate occurred in 2014 with the opening of the 66 Clay Street shelter in 2014. Some concerned residents felt that the neighborhood was taking on more than its fair share of duties in housing the homeless, a sentiment that former Assemblymember Joseph Lentol also shared.
“For more than 40 years we have been our brother’s keeper, and we continue to accept that responsibility on the condition that we are not being unfairly singled out to carry this burden,” Lentol said in a letter to Homelessness Commissioner Gilbert Taylor.
Data provided by the Department of Homeless Services from 2019 shows that Brooklyn Community Board 1, of which Greenpoint is a part, only hosts 1.5% of citywide total shelter population. Areas like Brownsville and Highbridge/Concourse in the Bronx host the most, at over 6% of the share each.
Councilmember Levin says while there were issues with smoking and loitering when the Clay Street shelter first opened, his office receives very few complaints these days, thanks to what he sees as better communication between service providers and neighbors.
Brooklyn Community Board 1 will host a virtual meeting on Tuesday, September 14 at 6 PM EST. Anyone who would like to voice their thoughts can sign up to speak at this link before 2 PM the day of the meeting.