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Hundreds Protest W. 95th Street Homeless Shelters at Hearing with City Reps

By Emily Frost | January 31, 2013 10:35am | Updated on January 31, 2013 4:37pm

UPPER WEST SIDE — Hundreds of community members and elected leaders accused city officials of rushing controversial emergency homeless shelters into West 95th Street under false pretenses at a meeting Wednesday.

Critics sounded off on Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Seth Diamond and Cara Pace, the president of services provider Aguila, at a hearing at Ansche Chesed on West 100th Street.

They took issue with the city's tactic of moving the shelters into 315 W. 95th St. and 330 W. 95th St. this past summer as "emergency housing" — allowing them to bypass community approval.

"We’ve been manipulated because you have not responded to our concerns. This community and the elected officials are getting played," said Borough President Scott Stringer, who accused Diamond of failing to meet with elected officials before installing the shelters without public input.

He added that Diamond and Aguila's leaders did not make themselves available to meet with the community.

Stringer and others were especially agitated by the fact that DHS intends to submit a new $46.8 million contract with Aguila to run the shelters for another five years, though the shelter was initially described as a temporary "emergency shelter."

There was intense debate over whether DHS had informed elected officials of a December hearing about the new contract, which Diamond said he would be submitting to Comptroller John Liu next week. 

"I’m going to call John Liu, who registers these contracts, and I’m going to say to him that that contract should not be registered because you have not followed the due process proceedings," Stringer threatened.

"The community needs some input," City Councilwoman Gale Brewer said. "Nobody knew about it."

Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal received resounding applause for pointing out that the landlord at the two buildings was fined $600,000 for dozens of code violations.

"You are rewarding a scum landlord by paying him thousands of dollars. He had to pay back hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines before you could even allow him to house people there," she said.

Many residents testified about what they perceived as the increase in crime and in anti-social behavior in the neighborhood, including public intoxication, and two armed robberies. 

But some of those who live in the shelters spoke out at the meeting against the abundant hostility against the homeless.

"It’s very obnoxious to hear all this snickering — crime is here, drugs is here, it’s not the homeless people," said Donna Dickerson, a resident at one of the West 95th Street shelters.

Deborah Lawrence, another shelter resident, echoed that sentiment. 

"We’re not bums. I don’t need nobody looking down on me. I’m trying to lift myself up," Lawrence said. "Anybody can lose their home at any time. Don’t paint everybody in the shelter as a bum because we work." 

Alex Zablocki, director of community relations for DHS, said there had only been two arrests in the area of the shelter since it opened six months ago and that the apartment has 24-hour security and a strict 10 p.m. curfew. 

"The stats don't show [an increase in crime]," he said. "It’s a stretch to say that everything is related to the shelter."