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Bronxites Petitioning to Move Homeless Shelter Out of Former YMCA

 Bronx residents are upset that a former YMCA in their neighborhood is being used to house the homeless.
Bronx residents are upset that a former YMCA in their neighborhood is being used to house the homeless.
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DNAinfo/Eddie Small

MELROSE — Bronx residents fed up with quality of life problems caused by residents of a local homeless shelter are demanding the mayor and local politicians move the program.

Pyramid Safe Haven, located at the former YMCA at 470 E. 161st St., opened up for the homeless in January and neighbors said problems soon followed.

"Our community barely has a decent library or a community center within a 15 block radius and yet with the most recent addition of this shelter, we have seen an increase in drug paraphernalia on the streets, an increase of disorderly conduct and our children being exposed to inappropriate behavior and nudity by some of the members of this facility who are mentally unstable," an open letter to politicians said.

Robin Dixon, who lives nearby, said she saw one homeless woman taking off her clothes in the street. She has seen other homeless residents urinating on the street and trespassing in buildings.

“One of my neighbors, she leaves at 5:00 in the morning, and she found one sleeping in the vestibule,” she said. “She made him get out.”

Future plans for the building now that the weather is warming up are unclear, but BronxWorks, the group operating the shelter, has submitted a contract to stay there long-term, according to the Department of Homeless Services.

BronxWorks did not respond to multiple requests seeking comment.

The building is located within Bronx Community Board 3, which contains 5 percent of the city's homeless shelters, according to DHS.

Community Board 3 District Manager John Dudley said he was upset about the location because his neighborhoods already have more than their fair share of shelters, and he felt that 470 E. 161st St. was a bad fit given its proximity to upcoming real estate projects.

“It’s just not suitable in the context of larger development activities that are coming to that area,” he said.

The former YMCA is very close to the upcoming Bronx Commons, a project that will serve as the new headquarters for the Bronx Music Heritage Center and contains 277 apartments. Developers expect to be finished with the building by the end of 2017.

An online petition to move the shelter currently has 131 signatures and stresses that, as a former YMCA, the building could be put to much better use for the community given its amenities, which include a pool, gymnasium, track, classrooms and cafeteria.

"They always talk about an obesity problem in The Bronx. We need a wellness center. We could have a wellness center there," said Dixon. "It used to be a Y, so they have a basketball court. They have a swimming pool. They have a track. It just needs to be renovated and upgraded."

The petition is addressed to Mayor Bill de Blasio, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., Assemblyman Michael Blake and Assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo, and it argues that locals deserve to see 470 E. 161st St. put to better use.

“Concentrating so many people with high rehabilitation needs in one area is a disaster waiting to happen and unfair to the many children in this neighborhood who deserve better,” it reads.

A spokesman from Diaz's office pledged to review the concerns and requests from residents and be in touch with them. The other politicians did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Gloria Alston, chair of Community Board 3, maintained her district has had enough of homeless housing.

"We don’t want another shelter," she said. "We’ve got enough shelters in our neighborhood."