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Peace Officers Sent Into Homeless Shelter That Neighbors Call a 'War Zone'

 Residents and business owners near the BRC homeless shelter at 127 W. 25th St. are calling the block a "war zone."
BRC Shelter
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CHELSEA — The city is sending two-dozen peace officers to patrol a West 25th Street homeless shelter that area residents and business owners are calling a "war zone."

The Department of Homeless Services plans to increase security at the Bowery Residents Committee homeless shelter at 127 W. 25th St. by stationing peace officers inside, parking a DHS police car out front and adding metal detectors and an X-ray machine to the entrance, the agency said in a recent letter.

But locals worry the measures will not be enough to deter shelter residents from attacking passersby and urinating in nearby building vestibules, issues that they say have been pervasive since the shelter opened three years ago.

Some said they were disappointed the uniformed DHS officers would only be stationed inside the shelter and wouldn’t be patrolling the street.  

“This block is a war zone,” said Jon Radom, who owns an antique business on West 25th Street and spends most of his time on the sidewalk watching over his wares.

“I’m threatened by people from the shelter almost every day. There’s sexual abuse and they’re doing drugs. Cops are called here at least eight to 15 times a day. It’s endless.”

After receiving complaints from residents and businesses in the area, Councilman Corey Johnson urged DHS earlier this year to allocate funds from its general budget to increase security at the BRC shelter.

The Department of Homeless Services agreed to spend $1 million on security upgrades and, on Sept. 23, DHS deputy commissioner Michael Gagliardi sent a letter to Johnson detailing the plans, including assigning one lieutenant, two sergeants and 21 peace officers to the shelter beginning mid-October.

Peace officers are not armed but can make arrests and issue summonses.

The letter arrived the same day a resident of the shelter was arrested for attacking a woman outside of the facility, the latest incident in what locals say is a pattern of violence.

Norman Thompson, 64, who was staying in the shelter, put a 24-year-old woman, who works across the street, in a chokehold and grabbed her breast and crotch at about 1:30 p.m. on Sept. 22, police said.

Thompson was arrested at the shelter the next day and charged with forcible touching, NYPD said. His lawyer declined to comment.

In response to an email about the attack from a concerned resident, BRC's executive director Muzzy Rosenblatt offered assurances that help is on the way.

"BRC took and continues to take the issue of safety and security seriously, responds immediately and cooperates fully with the police, DHS and all officials," Rosenblatt said in the Sept. 25 email.

"We support and welcome the arrival of DHS peace officers in the coming weeks and have worked collaboratively with all involved to facilitate their arrival."

Other recent incidents at the shelter include a man who assaulted another man with his crutches inside the facility on Aug. 28 and a 74-year-old man who was busted for having 148 bags of heroin in May, according to police reports.

An NYPD spokeswoman did not have information about the number of police responses to the shelter.

DHS spokesman Christopher Miller said the agency has worked with the community on "concerns about this facility, and we will be augmenting security at this site." He continued, "DHS always takes client, staff and community safety seriously."

BRC security will continue to patrol the street as they’ve been doing, the letter from DHS states.

“[BRC security is] not trained to deal with these kinds of circumstances,” said Carla Nordstrom, a resident of West 25th Street for 20 years. “It’s not really working.”

“We’ve been asking for uniformed presence on the block. Recently we found out that they’re going to be limited to the shelter.”

The 328-bed facility provides housing and assistance programs to the homeless, including those with substance abuse problems and mental illness.

Residents and business owners say people from the shelter regularly disrupt the neighborhood.

“They go into the hallways of buildings vomit, spit and urinate,” said Victor Mevo, owner of an antique shop across the street from the shelter. “It’s intimidating to the residents, and they pay a lot of money for their homes — $6,000 to $7,000 a month.”

Even before it opened in 2011, the controversial shelter had been under attack by community members and elected officials who were concerned about the effects of having such a large homeless shelter in their neighborhood.

Johnson, the councilman, said he believes the peace officers and new security measures will improve the situation on the shelter's block.

"I'm not sure if it totally solves it, but it makes it a lot better," he said.