T. Campbell was walking home on the Upper West Side earlier this year when she encountered two reporters for the New York Post. They wanted to know what her living conditions were like.

Campbell, along with her wife, had recently moved into a new homeless shelter at a building called The Alexander, a Single Room Occupancy [SRO] building on West 94th Street between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive. (Out of privacy concerns, she asked to use her first initial rather than her full first name.)

A 34-year-old Queens native, she had been struggling to get back on her feet since moving back to the city from Maryland more than two years ago. The shelter system wasn’t where she ever planned to be. She had several technical degrees. But life in New York had been an uphill battle. Her first apartment in Queens was infested with rats so she had to move. After she left a job at Paul J. Cooper Center for Human Services, a nonprofit that helps the disabled, she had trouble finding another one. She eventually got a job working at a barber shop in Harlem, which later turned into a home barbering business.

“I’m pretty much trying to get my stuff together,” she told Gothamist in a recent interview arranged by the city’s Department of Social Services. "We're just trying to live."

From the beginning, Campbell was well-aware that many of her new neighbors on the Upper West Side were opposed to the new shelter, which had replaced a notoriously troubled shelter called Freedom House on West 95th Street. She and her wife had watched a video of a public hearing of Community Board 7, which in December passed a formal resolution opposing the city’s decision to relocate the homeless shelter to The Alexander.

Still, when the Post story came out, she was angry. The piece focused on SRO tenants complaining about shelter residents making their lives a “living hell” with alleged activities like smoking marijuana, playing music on their cellphones and speaking too loudly.

Campbell said she does not smoke marijuana and has never smelled it in the building. Smoking inside the rooms is prohibited at the shelter, and the rules are strictly enforced, she said. In the story, a spokesman for the Department of Social Services responded by saying that there were only “two infractions of program policies” that month, both resulting in the homeless clients being transferred.

For Campbell, the complaints felt deeply personal, insinuations about what kind of people live in homeless shelters.

“They tried to paint us out to be monsters,” she said, adding that the shelter opponents should "be more mindful…anything can happen. The economy can crash and you can be in my shoes."

As the de Blasio administration deals with an ongoing homelessness crisis, efforts to reform the shelter system by closing poorly run ones and replacing them with new sites have faced intense resistance from some local residents. To date, the city has 468 shelters. Under the mayor's Turning the Tide initiative, the total number of shelters have shrunk by one-third since 2017, an effort to close 360 cluster sites and commercial hotel units and replace them with 90 new shelters and 30 expanded existing sites. Currently, forty-two new shelters have been planned, of which 23 have opened, according to a DSS spokesperson.

DSS has also maintained it has made broader progress on the homeless crisis, driving down the number of homeless individuals residing in shelters on any given night, with that number falling to 44,722 in 2018 from 47,423 in 2014.

In recent months, nowhere has the battle over shelters been more pitched than on the Upper West Side, a bastion of progressive ideals, but also upper middle-class homeowners who are still haunted by "Wild West" memories of the West 90s as a low-income and gritty stretch scattered with alcoholic homeless vets who lived in the area's many SROs.

“It’s the knee jerk reaction,” said Marc Greenberg, the executive director of the Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness and Housing. “We have these preconceived ideas of who homeless people are. The vast majority are good decent people who want to help themselves.”

Greenberg said that smaller shelters are usually better received by communities, but as the city moves to shut down substandard shelters, it faces pressure to replace them with bigger facilities. But he said that the proposed number at The Alexander seemed completely within reason.

“People certainly are justified in saying hey, you didn’t tell us," he said. "But if the city asks, the community will say no.”

The fight over homeless shelters in the Upper West Side dates back to the early 1990s. During that time, out of public safety concerns, some members of the community began paying for private security at a rough cost of $100,000 a year, according to Aaron Biller, the president of Neighborhood in the Nineties, a local community group. Prompted by the new shelter, the service was revived in 2018.

“We are a very compassionate neighborhood,” said Biller. “The city has chosen to keep coming back to us for more.”

A 64-year-old public relations executive who has lived in the Upper West Side for 34 years, Biller contended that the homeless population consists of individuals with drug and alcohol problems and violent histories. “They are letting people right out of jail and into the homeless system,” he said.

Of the shelter tenants at The Alexander, he said, “They are creating a living hell for the existing SRO tenants.”

He added: “They don’t know how to use bathrooms, they have problems with drugs and alcohol, they don’t know how to respect people’s privacy.”

Neighborhood in the Nineties, along with four tenants at The Alexander, have sued the city to stop the shelter from opening. Among their complaints is that the new shelter, which would house 110 adult households or units, violates New York’s “fair share” provision, which prohibits the city from concentrating public facilities in one area. Adult families can range from two to three people, all over the age of 18. According to DSS, they can take the form of young or elderly couples, or an adult child living with one or two parents.

The suit cites three facilities: an emergency shelter run by the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development next to The Alexander, an affordable housing SRO for homeless veterans run by the city's Human Resources Administration on 330 West 95th Street, and another facility on West 94th Street known as Rustin House, which provides permanent supportive housing.

In a partial victory for the opponents, a state Supreme Court judge in December placed a cap on the number of shelter residents at The Alexander to 100, or a maximum of 50 units.

The city, however, is now seeking to lift the cap to accommodate more residents in need of housing. The two parties are set to meet in court on Wednesday.

City officials and others have repeatedly tried to stem the panic by pointing out the facts.

“We have not changed the number of homeless individuals on the Upper West Side, we simply moved them from one location to another,” said City Councilmember Helen Rosenthal.

Rosenthal noted that Freedom House suffered in part from a lack of common spaces, which forced many shelter residents to socialize in front of the building. In contrast, the Alexander has an interior common space as well as an open courtyard.

“The new location is far better from the old location. That’s why I’ve not been concerned about the change,” she said.

She added that Praxis, the nonprofit hired to run the shelter, is a vast improvement over the prior one at Freedom House.

“Ultimately, I believe we satisfied the remaining concerns of residents and my remaining concerns — that the location be a good location for the residents themselves and that the neighbors could feel safe,” she said.

Department of Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks issued the following statement to Gothamist: “Families like Ms. Campbell’s are working hard to make ends meet and restabilize their lives. New Yorkers experiencing homelessness deserve a helping hand, not the back of the hand.”

Despite some of the vitriol, Greenberg said that, as part of his work partnering with religious institutions, he has witnessed remarkable changes in the way communities consider and treat homelessness after starting a dialogue with shelter residents.

Towards that end, Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness and Housing, Council member Roshenthal and B’nai Jeshurun, a nearby synagogue, have planned a town hall on homelessness. The event will take place on June 12th at 6 p.m. inside B’nai Jeshurun at 257 West 88th Street.

“You have a lot of folks who really want to help,” he said. “The people who are opposed are just more vocal.”

He said of the shelter residents, “These are our neighbors after all, they’re members of our human family.”

UPDATE: An earlier version described two facilities near The Alexander as homeless shelters. One is an emergency shelter run by the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, the other is an affordable housing SRO for homeless veterans run by the city's Human Resources Administration.