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City Council Committee Says New BRC Shelter Too Big

By Meredith Hoffman | July 27, 2011 2:44pm | Updated on July 27, 2011 4:25pm
The BRC residence opened Wednesday for clients.
The BRC residence opened Wednesday for clients.
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DNAinfo/Ben Fractenberg

CITY HALL — A City Council committee said that Chelsea's controversial BRC homeless shelter and treatment facility violates size limits intended to prevent overcrowding.

The unanimous vote by the council's Committee on General Welfare Wednesday came as BRC moved its first clients in to the new facility at 127 W. 25th St.

The resolution, sponsored by Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Councilman Albert Vann (D-Brooklyn) and Annabel Palma (D-Bronx), asks the full council to support a lawsuit seeking to shutter the facility.

The resolution seeks to challenge the BRC shelter on the grounds that the city's Department of Homeless Services violated size restrictions when it created the facility.

"The City's actions with regard to this facility were proper and lawful. We believe the petitioners' claims lack merit and should be dismissed," Christopher King, of the Law Department's Environmental Law Division, said in a statement.

The 328-bed facility, which took in 21 clients on its first morning of operation Wednesday, is larger than should have been allowed under city regulations, opponents testified at the hearing.

Among the opponents was Patrick Markee, senior policy analyst for the Coalition for the Homeless.

"It would be a huge step backward, moving toward large warehouse-style shelters," said Markee. He acknowledged the high demands for shelter space since the start of the economic crisis, but he said "the city added more than 1,200 beds [elsewhere] in recent years without violating local law."

Markee compared the creation of the BRC shelter to past overcrowding in the '80s, when he said thousands of homeless were packed together in "deplorable" facilities. He said advocates sued in the '90s, successfully implementing the 200-bed local limit in 1998, and causing the largest shelters to lower their occupancy.

"Smaller shelters have better resources," said Markee.

"Perhaps even 200 beds is too many. We want small," City Council Member Gale Brewer, whose district covers the Upper East Side, suggested to Markee.

"Two hundred, yes, is too many, but we should really make a point of enforcing local law," said Markee.

Meanwhile, in Chelsea, Muzzy Rosenblatt, BRC's executive director, said he moved in residents smoothly for their first day at the detox center, the facility's only section open so far.

He said 18 people had transferred from the BRC center on Lafayette Street, and another three had come as walk-ins seeking services.

"Our facility was fine before," said Rosenblatt of the Lafayette Street location, "but this is heaven ... Everybody's very happy with the environment, the facility and the conditions here. Everyone has a smile on their face."

Rosenblatt declined to discuss the committee's vote, and said he was concentrating on his clients.

"Getting sober and staying sober is very hard, folks are focusing on that, in a great place for that to happen," he said. "And that will keep on happening."