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City to Cut Homeless Population at Controversial UWS Shelter by Half

By Emily Frost | April 14, 2014 2:24pm
 The shelter now serves 400 homeless adults. By Nov. 1, it will only serve 200, under a new city agreement. 
West 95th Street Shelter Population to be Cut in Half
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UPPER WEST SIDE — A controversial shelter that opened in 2012 will have its homeless population reduced by half toward the end of the year under an agreement city leaders reached with the Department of Homeless Services. 

Nearly two years ago, the department opened Freedom House as an emergency shelter on West 95th Street between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive, in a move residents and leaders described as done without community buy-in or discussion. 

Four-hundred homeless adults were brought to the single room occupancy (SRO) building, where 71 rent-regulated tenants already lived, to be housed at a cost of more than $3,000 a month per unit. 

Now, 200 of those individuals will be removed from the building, which is managed by the nonprofit Aguila, by Nov. 1, according to Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Comptroller Scott Stringer.

They said the agreement was reached through negotiations with Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Lilliam Barrios-Paoli and Homeless Services Commissioner Gilbert Taylor. 

Last July, Comptroller John Liu rejected the shelter's bid for a five-year, $46.8 million contract.

City officials did not say where the homeless adults would be housed after they move from Freedom House or at what rate they would be removed from the shelter. DHS did not return request for comment about how the move would be executed.

Brewer and Stringer said the agreement would free up at least 100 affordable housing units for low-income New Yorkers. 

Residents have protested the shelter from the very beginning, claiming it is too close to the elementary school P.S. 75 and has contributed to quality-of-life issues such as vandalism, public drunkenness, noise disruption and thefts. 

"Neighboring buildings have called 911 and 311 about violent domestic fights, all-night screaming and trash hurling," the advocacy group Neighborhood in the Nineties stated in a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio in early April. 

The SRO residents have argued they are part of a close-knit community and shouldn't be forced to live with homeless strangers, who may have substance or mental health issues, and aren't getting the proper support for those problems on site. 

Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal called the current arrangement "ill-suited for everyone involved."

"The city has grappled for years with the need to house homeless families and has dealt with it by rewarding unscrupulous landlords offering rooms for hire in SROs with unconscionable, sky-high payments," she said. 

DHS has claimed that the homeless need to be housed somewhere and that West 95th Street was an appropriate place. Upper West Side residents shot back that the neighborhood is already beleaguered by more than its fair share of supportive-housing units. 

Concern about the shelter has been so great that City Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal made it one of her top priorities during her first days in office. 

A lawsuit filed by Neighborhood in the Nineties was rejected by the city's Supreme Court in early April, but the group vowed to continue fighting for the shelter's closure. 

"The shelter must be closed entirely and returned to affordable housing for the working poor," said a statement from the group. "Neighborhood in the Nineties is emboldened by the comptroller's decision today and will now turn up the pressure on these homelessness profiteers."