On September 18 in McGolrick Park, local artist Bea Wolert hosted a chalk quilting bee, a community-wide art project that invited participants to color in the tiles at the park’s pavilion. Only days later, the colorful tiles that were designed to bring Greenpoint together now housed angry locals holding signs with messages like “We don’t want a men’s shelter here!” and “Safe Haven? Safe For Who?”
The September 22nd meeting at McGolrick Park had been advertised as a two-hour long community discussion to talk about the new shelter on Apollo Street, and the evening’s mood was one of contention. Early in the evening, one young woman protesting the shelter, who looked to be in her late teens, told a shelter supporter: “I hope your children get hurt by the homeless people.”
City Councilmember Stephen Levin, who chairs the Committee on General Welfare and hosted the event with representatives from Breaking Ground and the Department of Homeless Services, spoke first and attempted to differentiate between types of shelters. As Greenpointers previously reported, the Apollo Street shelter would be a Safe Haven facility, short term housing that affords residents with more privacy and security, coupled with access to social services.
“People tend to be more receptive to services when they’re in a Safe Haven model,” said Levin.
Breaking Ground will operate the shelter, and Levin has consistently praised their track record.
Some Greenpoint residents felt like the decision to build a shelter was made quickly and without any community input. Levin stressed that he does not get a vote or final say over the project, though that fact was largely drowned out with jeers from the audience. “How much are they paying you?” “You lie!” and “Invite them into your house, then!” were all common retorts.
Levin gets a vote on rezonings under Uniform Land Use Review Policy Procedure, but the Apollo Shelter does not fall under those parameters. “Because shelters are considered an emergency resource in New York City, they are not subject to a high-level of public scrutiny, as other types of new structures are — and they can avoid the city’s lengthy Uniform Land Use Review Procedure altogether,” reports Kirstyn Brendlen of Brooklyn Paper.
As the evening progressed, a few protestors flanked Levin and other city representatives, crowding around and demanding answers. Police stood along the periphery, occasionally reprimanding folks to simmer down. The event went past the two-hour allotted time, though the crowd had thinned considerably by that point.
An online petition opposing the project has amassed over 1,800 signatures. Because permits have already been approved, there is little those in opposition can do to stop it outside of bringing a lawsuit against the city.
A monthly meeting at the 94th Precinct building (715 Leonard Street) on Wednesday, October 6 at 7 PM will also answer questions and address concerns about the project.