City Plan to Build Homeless Shelter Next to Elementary School Faces CB 1 Firing Squad

Board members maintained that they support finding shelter for homeless people on principle, but balked at the city’s plan to place a new shelter across the street from an elementary school. The move is being done without local community input, CB1 members said.

| 27 Nov 2023 | 05:48

A plan by New York City’s Department of Social Services (DSS) to open a homeless shelter at 41-43 Beekman Street was met with criticism in a November 15 meeting of Community Board 1’s Quality of Life Committee. The crux of the pushback is that the shelter for 170 single men will be opened just steps away from Spruce Street School, which is attended by 400 students from Pre-Kindergarten to Grade 8.

Construction is anticipated to begin in summer 2024, according to Marsha Horne, DSS’s Manhattan Borough Director for Intergovernmental and Legislative Affairs. The original planned opening in late 2024 has been pushed back to 2025 as construction is expected to take as long as 12 months to complete. The residential building that the shelter will replace is already being vacated. A DSS letter to CB1 District Manager Zach Bommer lists HELP Social Services Corp. as the nonprofit service provider.

Pat Moore, the head of CB1’s by Quality of Life Committee chaired the hearing and pressed Horne about what he says has been the lack of official community input on the project. A Community Advisory Board (CAB) will only be set up after the shelter is opened. “Is that how it normally happens, that someone finds a building and it’s vacant, then you rent it or buy it, and you put a shelter there with no input from the community about whether that’s a great location or not?” she asked.

“The nuance of it is kind of new to me,” Horne replied. “I know that because of the asylum-seeker crisis and the need for shelter in general, and COVID, a lot of landlords have been offering up their buildings.” Moore retorted that landlords offering up a site did not mean that the DSS had to accept, especially if the location is potentially problematic.

“Before there is construction, before the shelter is actually opened, there needs to be some input,” she said. “And we should definitely have a CAB before the shelter is complete. So how do we halt this process?”

Horne offered that Moore and other board members could send an email with their concerns, and she would try to assist them and elevate the issue.

The gauntlet of questions and criticism continued, with CB1 chair Tammy Meltzer telling Horne that even though she was able to raise some concerns, “due diligence shouldn’t be on the Community Board to tell you that there’s a Pre-K to Grade 8 there, or that you are around the corner from a college and down the street from a hospital...that should be in the information that you have.” Controversial projects in the past, she said, such as the replacement of the Manhattan Detention Center on White Street with what is anticipated (and dreaded, by many local residents) to be the world’s tallest prison, had CABs set up before construction began.

“We support getting the homeless off the street and helping people who cannot find permanent shelter,” Meltzer concluded. “But if you’re going to open a single men’s shelter next to a Pre-K to Grade 8 school that the city built, there are rules and regulations that go with that, and that is not acknowledged, and that is disconcerting for the community board.”

Other committee members also expressed their dismay. “I cannot adequately express my extreme concern about locating [the shelter] right across the street from a preschool, and you’re going to get a lot of ferocious pushback on that,” said Rosa Chang. “This is not an acceptable location.”

Another committee member, Justine Cuccia, questioned why DSS couldn’t have housed “people who could actually benefit” from the nearby schools rather than single male adults at the site.

For the most part, Horne did not vigorously defend the project against criticism, promising to forward their concerns to the right people and explaining DSS’s thinking at the time to take whatever opportunity landlords offered to alleviate homelessness across New York City. Many CB1 members, for their part, signaled further resistance down the road. “We will fight this,” said Chang, to conclude her remarks.

“Before there is construction, before the shelter is actually opened, there needs to be some input.” Pat Moore, chair person of CB1’s by Quality of Life Committee
”We will fight this,” Justine Chang, CB1 board member