110 Beds Go Unused as Homeless Shelter Waits for City Approval

By Irene Plagianos on July 31, 2014 10:46am 

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 TriBeCa's Rescue Mission has to turn away homeless people while waiting for approval from the DOB.
Rescue Mission Waits for DOB Approval
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TRIBECA  —  The New York City Rescue Mission has 110 new beds ready for the homeless, but they have remained empty for months as the longtime TriBeCa shelter waits for a necessary approval from the city, the nonprofit said. 

The shelter recently built an $11 million addition atop its 30-year-old home at 90 Lafayette St., with room for 80 homeless men to stay overnight, as well as spots for 30 participants in the mission's long-term resident and recovery programs.

The three-story addition was completed in May, but since then the shelter has been waiting for the Department of Buildings to sign off on opening the new facility.

“With the addition of these beds, we wouldn’t have to turn away homeless who line up for a place to sleep at night,” said Andrew DeCurtis, head of development for the shelter.

“But instead, we’re kept waiting, and people are kept out on the street.”

The reason for the holdup is a missing standpipe, which runs through the building and connects to fire hoses in an emergency.

The Rescue Mission built a standpipe along the north side of its building as part of the new construction, but the mission didn't build a second one along the south side. The mission didn’t believe they needed an additional standpipe, and the DOB approved the building plans two years ago without a second standpipe in the designs, DeCurtis said.

After the construction was finished, however, the DOB told the Rescue Mission that the nonprofit needed to build the second standpipe, to keep in line with codes that were revised in 2008.

Construction of a standpipe at this point would cost more than $100,000, and could take nearly two months, setting back the opening even further, DeCurtis said.

Instead of immediately building the standpipe, the shelter applied to the DOB for a variance that would allow the structure to operate as it now stands. The mission argued in the application that because the distance from the north side to the south side of the building is less than 85 feet, and water from a fire hose can travel up to 130 feet, an additional standpipe is unnecessary.

DeCurtis said the Rescue Mission submitted the variance application on June 17 and has been waiting ever since for a decision.

“We just need to know at this point,” DeCurtis said. “We think we should be able to open as we are, but if they keeping holding off on a decision, and then tell us we need to build the standpipe, that will just ultimately push off when we can provide needed services.”

In an emailed statement, the Department of Buildings said the "status of the variance remains pending while under review by our Technical Affairs unit."

DeCurtis wants the issue resolved as soon as possible, because the mission, which currently has 120 beds, is turning away 25 to 45 people each night. In the coldest part of the winter, up to 100 people are turned away nightly.

“The weather changes so quickly,” DeCurtis said. “Especially when the cold weather sets in, we need this additional space.”

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