PARK SLOPE — The women's shelter at the Park Slope Armory is expanding to 100 beds to help the city cope with a mounting homelessness crisis, officials announced recently.
The shelter, on Eighth Avenue and 14th Street, currently houses 70 homeless women, all of whom have mental health conditions and chemical addiction issues. The first few new clients began trickling in last week and more will arrive in the months to come, said officials with CAMBA, the nonprofit that runs the shelter.
They announced the shelter's expansion at a Community Board 6 committee meeting last week, though the community board has no role in approving the bed increase.
The city's Department of Homeless Services asked the shelter to expand, and requested that CAMBA turn an unused room on the Armory's second floor into a new dormitory. The new beds have already been approved by the state, which must sign off on expansions of city shelters, CAMBA officials said.
The shelter's growth comes as New York struggles with a swelling homeless problem. The number of people who sleep in shelters each night has climbed 69 percent since Mayor Michael Bloomberg took office in 2002, according to the Coalition for the Homeless.
"The system has been at capacity for a very long time," said Valerie Barton-Richardson, an executive vice president with CAMBA, explaining the need for the expansion.
The Department of Homeless Services did not respond to a request for comment.
CAMBA has run the Park Slope Women's Shelter since 1996. Homeless women don't just knock on the shelter's door and ask for a place to sleep. They are referred to the shelter by DHS, which screens potential shelter clients. Those that are deemed "MICA" — mentally ill and chemically addicted — end up at the Park Slope Women's Shelter.
Once there, the goal is to "stabilize" the women, then move them into permanent housing as soon as possible, Barton-Richardson told Community Board 6 members. The average stay at the shelter is six to nine months.
Residents get meals and a place to lay their head each night, and they're given a host of services including therapeutic recreation, recovery groups, psychiatric help and medical treatment. The women who sleep at the shelter aren't allowed in the dorms from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and they must obey a 10 p.m. curfew or they risk getting transferred to another facility.
Using drugs or alcohol is "discouraged," but clients have occasional relapses, CAMBA officials told Community Board 6 members.
Wary neighbors filed an unsuccessful legal challenge against the shelter in 1997, but since then the facility has become an "integral part of the community," said Community Board 6 District Manager Craig Hammerman.
The shelter works with neighbors to beautify its grounds, and volunteers from the community help run an arts program for residents, Hammerman said. The shelter also hosts an annual holiday tree lighting ceremony that's open to the public, where residents share success stories.
Police occasionally respond to disturbances such as fights, but Hammerman called the facility a "good neighbor."
"They have a stellar track record and really do excellent work," Hammerman said in an email. "The Park Slope Women's Shelter at the Armory could not be in better hands."