By Leslie Albrecht
UPPER WEST SIDE — Department of Homeless Services officials snubbed Upper West Siders on Tuesday night, failing to show up at a meeting where locals expected to grill them on a controversial homeless shelter in the neighborhood.
"It's a disgrace," said Paul Zarrillo, a resident of West 92nd Street who came to the Community Board 7 committee meeting expecting to learn more about a 200-bed facility for homeless men that the city wants to open two blocks from his house. "They're government officials, they should be here," Zarrillo said. "You've got a responsibility to the public. You've got to take the heat."
Both DHS officials and representatives from Samaritan Village, the non-profit that will operate the homeless facility, were on the meeting's agenda, but both skipped Tuesday's meeting.
Heather Janik, a spokeswoman for the city's Department of Homeless Services refused to answer when asked why officials didn't attend the meeting.
But Janik wrote in an e-mailed statement that the agency has "been engaged in extensive discussions" over the homeless shelter with Community Board 7, Council Member Gale Brewer and community leaders "since November to present day."
"The Agency looks forward to continuing discussions, including a full presentation by Samaritan Village to the community board committee," Janik added. Janik didn't say when Community Board 7 would hear the presentation by Samaritan Village.
Samaritan Village could not be reached for comment.
A standing-room-only crowd of close to 100 people crammed into Tuesday night's meeting, with many seeking answers to basic questions about the homeless shelter, such as what the hours will be and whether residents will be monitored.
"I'm totally disgusted," said Louis R. Zurita, a father of three who lives on West 96th Street and is worried the shelter could bring dangerous men to the neighborhood. "It's a cowardly act. Instead of facing up and making things clear, they don't show up."
Some speculated that DHS and Samaritan Village skipped the meeting because they may have learned that a neighborhood group, Neighborhood in the Nineties, planned to stage a protest at the meeting.
The homeless facility is slated for 306 W. 94th Street, a building that's now the Hotel Alexander. Plans to convert the Alexander into a homeless facility have drawn sharp criticism from local elected officials, because they want the single-room occupancy building to be cheap rental housing for low-income people.
The hotel has catered to budget tourists for years, but it also has some permanent residents. One of them is 27-year-old Flor Soto, who grew up in the building and attended Tuesday's meeting because she's desperate for answers about what's happening to her home.
Soto, a student and personal assistant, shares a small studio with her mom, for which they pay about $400 a month in rent.
Soto said no one has explained what's happening to the building. She said she found out about plans to turn it into a homeless facility on Jan. 10, when workers started hauling out the hotel furniture.
Officials from the Department of Homeless Services then toured the building to check the condition of the rooms, but when Soto asked them what was happening, she said they refused to answer her questions or direct her to someone in the agency who could.
Soto said she wasn't surprised DHS and Samaritan Village skipped Tuesday's meeting. "They're very unprofessional," Soto said. "They lack the common courtesy to communicate with the people involved."