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Teachers and Students Object to George Washington HS Homeless Shelter

NEW YORK — George Washington High School reopened to students for the first time since Hurricane Sandy on Thursday — but the building is also still serving as a shelter for dozens of hurricane evacuees and homeless people.

After the first day back, teachers and students raised concerns about the safety and logistics of squeezing the shelter into the busy Washington Heights campus, which already houses four high schools with about 3,000 students.

“It’s a major danger because of the health and safety risks,” said a teacher who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Teachers, volunteers and local officials said the shelter initially housed New Yorkers who were forced to leave their homes in the storm, but early this week the city also began busing in dozens of people who were homeless before the hurricane hit.

One family came to the shelter with scabies and had to be quarantined while they were treated, teachers and volunteers said.

“They took people right off the street,” the teacher said. “Everybody was against it.”

George Washington High School is one of five high schools across the city that split its space between students and shelter residents on Thursday.

Along with George Washington, Brooklyn Technical High School, Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School, Hillcrest High School and Susan Wagner High School together temporarily housed 717 people as of Wednesday night.

City officials said there were 53 people staying in the George Washington shelter, but some teachers thought there were more than twice that many.

The shelter residents were confined to just part of the building and had their own entrance, and extra school safety officers and Department of Homeless Services workers were on hand to ensure the residents did not mix with the students, the Department of Education said Wednesday.

Still, many students and teachers disapproved of the arrangement, which shuffled some classes into the auditorium, closed a main staircase and prevented students from using the gym, where the shelter residents were sleeping.

“It's better with them gone,” said Ismet Sabovic, 14. “It's a school, not a shelter. I know that they are homeless, but it's not supposed to be a place where there are old homeless people."

Another teacher, who did not give her name, said she was concerned that shelter residents could pose a danger to the students, who already receive extra city resources because George Washington was designated a violence-prone Impact School earlier this year.

"I don't want to be in a school with a shelter in there, because the students can definitely get mixed in," the teacher said. "I mean, it's already an unsafe school, so this just adds to the chaos."

Some students, though, said they were happy to share their space with those in need.

“I think it’s perfectly fine because people were impacted by the storm,” said Claudio Fernandez, 16, a junior. “So it’s OK, whatever it takes.”

At Brooklyn Tech in Fort Green, some students also said they didn’t mind having a shelter on the top two floors of their building, but others worried that the evacuees, who include fragile nursing home patients, would be crunched for space.

"I feel really bad for the people," Brooklyn Tech junior T'khya Yisrael said. "We have 5,000-plus kids in here, and we're trying to shove them all into six floors. It's bad enough already."