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City Shutters Dozens of Hurricane Shelters Ahead of Schools Reopening

By DNAinfo Staff | November 1, 2012 4:02pm | Updated on November 1, 2012 5:17pm

NEW YORK CITY — Some schools across the city used to shelter New Yorkers displaced by Hurricane Sandy were being shuttered Thursday in preparation for students to return next week — leaving some evacuees from the monster storm confused and frustrated.

The thousands housed in the 76 city shelters will be moved into one of 15 remaining facilities around the city in order to make room, according to Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“We need the schools back to get ready for next week,” Bloomberg said at a Thursday press conference. “Make no mistake, the shelters will be available for those who need them.”

It was not immediately clear what would happen to the evacuees at the remaining shelters Monday and it was not certain how many of those were public schools. It was also unclear when the consolidation process would be completed.

The announcement caused confusion in some shelters, where some have been staying since Sunday, before Sandy tore through the area, killing 37 and leaving hundreds of thousands in the dark.

Baruch College, which is reopening Friday, had to move roughly 300 people, according to a spokeswoman from the Department of Homeless Services, which is running the shelters.

Early Thursday morning, those who were staying at the college were asked to leave, according to Jose Angel Rodriguez, 38, who was joined at the shelter by his wife and five kids.

"First they told us it was just the families with the kids that were going," Rodriguez said. "They then told us everybody's gotta go because they gotta clean up the school because the school kids are coming back tomorrow. They need us out now.''

Others complained that the shelter was chaotic, and that people were stealing from each other and fighting. The spokeswoman from homeless services confirmed that one man, a volunteer, was arrested for fighting early Thursday.

But throughout the consolidation, most of the staff on hand at the shelter were able to help move the crowd along peacefully, Rodriguez said.

''The volunteers were the best," Rodriguez said. "I can't tell you how helpful they [were]. They were really concerned.''

Banners outside P.S. 154 on W. 127th Street in Harlem still identified the school as an emergency shelter on Thursday afternoon, but inside, the shelter was nearly empty, with staff members from the Department for Homeless Services packing up remaining first aid kits and blankets.

At the height of the storm, the shelter held 51 people, according to shelter supervisor Sherri Love of the Department of Homeless, and dozens of volunteers helped out. The cafeteria staff prepared hot meals for the displaced, Love said.

"It was unprecedented, the amount of volunteers," Love said. "I think that's just the Harlem community."

On Thursday, those remaining 24 people in the shelter were moved to George Washington High School in Washington Heights.

At another closed shelter in Harlem, I.S. 136 at 135th Street and Edgecombe Avenue, some volunteers were also being told to move to George Washington.

"Today was my first day here," said Harlem resident Michael Hamilton, 22, who tried to volunteer at I.S. 136. "There's a few people milling around, but it's basically shut down."

For some, the strain of being displaced from their homes was becoming too much to bare. Kiawana Hamilton moved to her third shelter in five days on Thursday. Hamilton, a 27 year old Lower East Side resident, burst into tears when describing how she's been coping with shelter life.

Hamilton lives in the Baruch Houses, and evacuated with her mom, niece and nephew to a shelter at Seward Park High School. But when generators failed there and hot water stopped functioning, she and other evacuees were bused up to I.S. 88 in Harlem.

On Thursday afternoon, she was waiting for word about when she would be moved to yet another shelter, George Washington High School.

"You can just imagine how the people in Katrina felt," a sobbing Hamilton said.