By Tara Kyle
CHELSEA — Preparations for the spring opening of a controversial 328-plus bed homeless shelter in Chelsea are inching forward.
The proposed shelter at 127 W. 25th Street, planned by homeless advocacy group the Bowery Residents Committee, has not yet received its city contract, BRC Executive Director Muzzy Rosenblatt said Monday. But he said the contract process is moving forward with the Department of Homeless Services. The project is scheduled to be completed in April.
Opponents of the project, including members of the Chelsea Flatiron Coalition neighborhood advocacy group, argue that its large size will create quality of life issues on the largely residential block between Sixth and Seventh avenues.
Community Board 4 has offered conditional support for the project. Members voted in July to request that BRC ax its plans for a 200-bed program for homeless men with histories of mental illness, but they did support a 32-bed chemical dependency crisis center and 96-bed reception center for homeless men and women.
For now, BRC's priorities include running the thrice-weekly outreach patrols in areas surrounding the new shelter site.
BRC staffers use the patrols to approach homeless men, women and youth in Chelsea and Madison Square Parks, and in the blocks bounded by Fifth and Eighth avenues and WEST 21st to 28th Streets, and refer them to other sites where they can get help.
Meanwhile, BRC's security consultant is currently meeting with Chelsea stakeholders (including the Fashion Institute for Technology and the Penn South residential complex on Eighth Avenue) to discuss security concerns and training for how to use the proposed shelter as a resource.
For Penn South residents, who live just a five-minute walk from the shelter site, one of those concerns is making sure benches and private playgrounds stay secure.
The playground at Penn South "is a bit of a magnet because it's open all the way," SAID Pamela Wolff, member of the Save Chelsea advocacy group and Chelsea West 200 Block Association, whose children once played in the playground.
Rosenblatt hopes that keeping an open line of communication with neighbors like Wolff will help ease the shelter's transition into the West side neighborhood. Wolff alerted Rosenblatt to other hotspots for the homeless in the neighborhood where she'd like to see more patrols, including a dry cleaner on Seventh Avenue with warm street vents that attract homeless people in the winter.
"My hope is that people see it as a resource to walk in and get help," said Rosenblatt. "What we want is to do more than help people survive."
Members of the Chelsea Flatiron Coalition did not return immediate requests for comment.