As the de Blasio administration seeks to open two new family homeless shelters on Brooklyn’s Fourth Avenue, a group of Park Slope neighbors have mounted a petition declaring in no uncertain terms, “We, the residents who live near the shelters, will welcome the families who live in these shelters as our neighbors.”
The petition represents a departure from the typical new-shelter narrative of resident complaints and vocal protests. And that’s exactly what Park Slope resident Kathy Park Price was hoping to accomplish when she started it through her organization Citizen Squirrel, a group that seeks to get families with young children civically engaged.
“If they were building a school we wouldn’t have to rally around it because even if you don’t have kids, it’s generally accepted that schools are necessary for communities,” said Price. “It should be the same for shelters.”
Price launched the petition in response to one opposing the shelters, which will house a total of 253 families with children, that began circulating after a heated community forum last month. The pro-shelter petition had garnered more than 2,000 signatures as of Monday morning, surpassing the 1,200 or so backing the anti-shelter petition.
Councilmember Brad Lander and former city council speaker Christine Quinn—who now runs Women In Need (WIN), the organization that will be operating the new shelters—have been “quoted in articles saying more people support the shelters than not,” Price noted. “I thought it was time to show the receipts.”
As Mayor de Blasio’s administration has scrambled amid record homelessness to keep up with the city’s legal mandate to provide a bed for everyone who needs one, vocal opponents have protested as each new shelter has been announced. Although the opposition to the Park Slope shelters was par for the course, this time those who came out against them faced high-profile shaming from the likes of the New York Times and MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes. The New York Post, which loves to poke fun at “progressive” Park Slope, reported that some neighbors were blasting those opposing the shelters as hypocrites.
Dan Guido, a Park Slope resident who signed the anti-shelter petition, said in this case, residents have legitimate cause for concern, including the amount of money the city is spending on the shelters.
A representative of the Department of Homeless Services argued at last month’s community meeting on the shelters that the city would need to pay market rate in expensive areas to achieve its goal of distributing shelters more equitably throughout the city. But new details on the contracts show the city will be paying WIN upwards of $10,000 per unit per month to run the shelters, in addition to any payments to developers. A CityRealty article that profiled the new buildings at 535 and 555 4th Avenue back when they were slated to become luxury apartments noted that according to its data, the median rent for the area was $2,814 per month.
“I don’t know why the comptroller and other government officials are OK spending money like this,” Guido said. “There is a way to address the homeless problem we have in the city with a more efficient use of money.”
A public hearing on the contract is scheduled for June 27th.
Guido also cited the Coalition for the Homeless’ recent critique of de Blasio’s “Turning the Tide” initiative, which charged the city has not sufficiently prioritized permanent housing for the homeless.
Guido said he was no longer as concerned about potential crime or quality of life issues he raised when he first voiced his concerns about the shelter at the meeting last month. That is something that some of those who signed the anti-shelter petition referenced in their comments, however.
“I have young Children that have to go to school right across the street from there and I don’t want them to have to walk by the things I had to when I was going to that school in the 90’s!” one petitioner wrote.
Another wrote, “From my common understanding watching what happens at other shelters makes me feel unsafe. It brings drugs, crime and robbery.”
In a piece checking in on several of the purpose-based shelters constructed under the mayor’s ‘Turning the Tide’ initiative last year, Curbed found that many of the showdowns that took place before the shelters opened ended up being anti-climactic.
“The things that people were concerned about, the quality of life issues, those haven’t really materialized,” Crown Heights resident Dion Ashman told Curbed. Ashman had been a plaintiff in a lawsuit that briefly resulted in an order preventing families from moving into a new shelter in that neighborhood before it got dismissed.
Quinn, president and chief executive of WIN, said community support such as that shown through Price’s petition is meaningful for shelter residents. “What human being wants to be somewhere where they’re not wanted, particularly at an incredibly low point in their lives and low point in life of their child?” Quinn told Gothamist. “For them to see the opposite, so many more people speaking out in support, is heartening.”
Citizen Squirrel, founded in January, has so far held events such as a “playdate” (i.e., a rally) for smaller class sizes at City Hall and workshops on civic engagement for families with small children. Price said since the shelters will also be serving families with children it seemed like a good fit for her organization, and she encouraged kids to sign the petition, too.
Quinn noted that residents can also do a lot to support shelters in material ways once they open, including donating backpacks at the start of the school year and gifts at holiday time, as well as volunteering to lead workshops for adults and children.
Price said she’s hoping to mobilize residents to volunteer once the shelters open. “It’s a great opportunity for the community to support families who need help,” she said.
Correction: This post has been updated to clarify that the city is paying approximately $10,000 a month per unit to WIN to operate the new shelters, not to the developers that are building them.