From hotel to homeless shelter.
The New York City Department of Homeless Services (DHS) recently announced that the Sleep Inn, 247 49th Street, where the agency had been renting rooms, is being converted into a men’s homeless shelter, with a plan to expand the capacity from its current 100.
“The de Blasio administration has aggressively worked to both prevent and reduce homelessness, supporting over 60,000 individuals with homelessness prevention services and helping over 38,000 individuals exit shelter to permanent housing in the past year,” Press Secretary of DHS Nicole Cueto said in a statement. “We’re expanding this Brooklyn facility to house 50 more homeless men. The facility will have both job training and clinical services to support the shelter residents, and we will have 24-hour security inside and outside the building, making rounds every 30 minutes to ensure safety of shelter residents and the surrounding community.”
The new facility will be run by the not-for-profit organization the Samaritan Village, a 50-year-old human services agency serving over 20,000 people in New York City at over 40 locations.
Both concerned residents and elected officials have noticed that homelessness in the community has been on the upswing. According to Tony Giordano, who runs the popular Sunset Parker Facebook page, residents witnessed the trend as early as the beginning of the year.
“Back in May, I began receiving complaints on Sunset Parker of an increase in homeless men in Sunset Park and also about men nodding on drugs in doorways in the area of the Sleep Inn Hotel,” he told the paper. “We’ve also seen men collapsing in the street, and EMS and police responding.”
Councilmember Carlos Menchaca added that he noticed the neighborhood’s growing problem. “We’ve helped with urgent concerns about helping vulnerable homeless people and with the serious quality-of-life and public safety issues that affect residents,” he said in a statement.
Although safety is a concern with the new plan, according to DHS, the Samaritian Village will offer 24-hour security with DHS being in close coordination with the 72nd Precinct. Security guards will be posted throughout the building, making rounds every 30 minutes. The director of operations will oversee the security of the inside and perimeter of the building. External cameras will also be installed. DHS also said that sex offenders on parole or probation with residency restrictions would not be permitted to reside at the site.
Giordano and other members of his page feel that they were misled early in the process. “I contacted the hotel (early in the year) and was told that these people were job-ready or employed and appropriate for their own housing,” he said. “Then we found out that they were homeless that had not been screened and had no services being provided. They were being dumped in the hotel with unsuspecting paying tourists.”
DHS recently called a 10 a.m. meeting at St. Michael’s Church to inform the Sunset community that they were converting the Sleep Inn into a homeless shelter.
“At the meeting, they said they want to create an advisory committee from the community. But when folks volunteered, they said they weren’t ready yet,” Giordano added. “They want to wait until the program is all set up. So that is kind of insulting that we only get to advise after the fact.”
DHS also elaborated on the support services that will be offered. “We are going to be offering daytime programming at this shelter to connect residents to job training, education and financial literacy opportunities,” the agency’s statement said.
“The tone (of the meeting) was one of serious concern for respecting our community and sincere care for upholding the humanity of homeless people,” added Menchaca. “I have also initiated renewed efforts by DHS to make meaningful outreach to homeless people throughout Sunset Park – not just around 49th street.”
Giordano says he and a large group of the nearly 7,000 members on his site want help to be offered to local people first.
“We request that our local homeless be dealt with before we take homeless from other parts of the city,” he said. “We have about 30 homeless living on the streets and in the railroad cut at 64th Street. If we are going to take a ‘hit’ for other communities, we must get a ‘pay back.’ The homeless are a drain on our police, EMS and health services.”
Despite the difference, Giordano does want to see the community’s less fortunate back on their feet.
“The overwhelming concern of most Sunset Parkers is we want to help our homeless. We view them as the most vulnerable of our community, he added. “No one chooses homelessness as a lifestyle – even if they say they do and even if society tries to write it off as such.”