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New Shelter Offers Nightly Refuge for Homeless in Greenpoint

By Meredith Hoffman | December 13, 2012 9:17am

GREENPOINT — Several men who lived on the streets and in McCarren and McGolrick parks for years have recently found nightly refuge in the basement of a local church, thanks to a long-awaited project to serve the chronically homeless in the area.

The Greenpoint Reformed Church opened its doors to 10 homeless men on Nov. 19 to offer dinners, beds and trained staff and volunteers to assist them, said Heather Janik, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeless Services, which provided $100,000 funding to the project.

Although there has been some resistance to the shelter among neighborhood residents, Janik hailed the project for getting 10 people from the community off the streets.

"Over the past several weeks, the church program has been a huge success," said Heather Janik, a DHS spokeswoman.

She noted that 30 of Greenpoint's homeless have left the streets since August through the church's program and through local spaces at the new city shelter on 400 McGuinness Blvd.

The church's center — the opening of which follows four years of struggle by the city and advocates to find a local solution for homelessness — caters to Polish-speaking men who would typically avoid a large shelter, said the church's leader, Pastor Ann Kansfield.

"There are two Polish-speaking staff who are here every night," she said. "It's really wonderful."

Kansfield, whose congregation has also worked every day since Hurricane Sandy swept through the city to provide food and supplies to affected areas, said the storm further proved that the area needed the shelter.

"I'd been going back and forth about it," she said, "but Sandy really highlighted how doing the right thing is really important."

Beyond the storm, Kansfield said the shelter helps alleviate some of the neighborhood's other problems, such as homeless men being assaulted in the parks or succumbing to the frigid temperatures. In October, a man was attacked in the park — Kansfield said she knew the victim — and in past winters, men have frozen to death in the park, she noted.

"Last year, I had to find a man's daughter online in Poland and then, through Google translate, tell her he was dead," Kansfield recalled. "Hopefully this year I won't have to do that again."

Some neighbors, however, have complained of noise and safety concerns on the block, adding that the "residential block" is no place for a shelter.

"They're drunk and they're loud," said Elizabeth, who declined to give her last name but said she has lived on the street for 31 years. "My grandchildren stayed up one night because they were fighting. I've never been afraid to come out on the street, but now I am."

The woman said that a group of neighbors were planning to take their concerns to Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, who represents the area. Lentol's staff, though, said they had not received any complaints.

And Lentol supports the project, which he said was a long time coming for the neighborhood's homeless population.

"Providing community-based solutions to help the homeless who live on our streets get back on their feet is what Greenpoint has needed for quite some time," Lentol said. "I'm glad the Greenpoint Reformed Church has stepped up to the plate."

Pat McDonnell, an outreach worker with Common Ground who volunteers at the shelter, said many of the men did struggle with alcohol addiction but that the shelter has "had no problems." The program, she added, connected the men with much-needed recovery workers, too.

The homeless men are escorted to the church at 10 p.m., when the shelter opens its doors to the men, and are accompanied by staff when they leave at 6 a.m., she added.

Kansfield also said she wanted to work with residents who had concerns, and that she felt the program was extremely secure.

"This is about being a good neighbor," she said, "both to try to help people stay alive and to homeowners."

McDonnell said the program is currently funded through June by DHS and by a "private investor" she did not name. DHS will then evaluate the program to determine further funding, an agency representative said in a statement.

For now, Kansfield and other advocates feel they've achieved a victory.

'It's absolutely the right thing to do," she said.