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Critics Walk Out of Meeting on Homeless Shelter to Protest City's Response

By Eddie Small | May 19, 2015 3:25pm
 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 — The Department of Homeless Services efforts to fix problems with homeless shelter located in a former YMCA fell short of community expectations, neighborhood residents said Monday night.

Bronxites continued to voice their outrage about a homeless shelter located inside a former YMCA at a meeting for the community on Monday night that the press was barred from attending.

Although neighborhood residents described the meeting about the shelter with the Department of Homeless Services as civil, they said people were angered by the lack of notice they received about the facility Pyramid Safe Haven moving into 470 East 161st St., and many walked out of the meeting early after getting frustrated that their questions on safety and security were not being answered.

"This is not 'Kumbaya,'" said Robin Dixon, who lives close to the shelter. "This is 'When are you leaving?'”

Yasmine Holloway, who attended the meeting and lives close to Pyramid Safe Haven, said through tears that she had invested a lot in the neighborhood and was deeply hurt by not being told that a shelter was coming into her community.

"I feel that I should have at least been notified about this place," she said.

The shelter, which is run by BronxWorks, opened in January in response to the cold weather, but Dixon noted that this was not an issue anymore.

“It’s 70 degrees. What’s the problem?" she asked. "Why are you still here?”

BronxWorks Assistant Executive Director Scott Auwarter said disputed claims that Pyramid Safe Haven was trashing the neighborhood.

"I, quite frankly, think they’re just not true," he said. "I’d also like to say that we’re trying very hard to be responsible and to be responsive to the community, and we’re sending our staff outside the facility to patrol around on a regular basis."

A DHS spokeswoman said in a statement that the agency is required to provide shelter for whoever needs it.

"DHS is committed to working with the community to further educate them about our homeless population,” she said.

The agency reached out to community and elected officials in January to tell them about using the facility, which has helped contribute to a significant reduction of street homelessness in The Bronx, according to DHS.

An online petition to move Pyramid Safe Haven now has 163 supporters. It argues that the community already has more than its fair share of shelters and that the new site could undo much of the progress that Melrose has made in recent years.

"We don't need a reminder of where we come from. We have that constantly," said Bryan Washington, a 29-year-old steamfitter who lives nearby. "We need help to get where we're going. This is not helping us."

Claudia Aybar, a 36-year-old teacher, said that the shelter was limiting how much access she had to her own community.

"A lot of us walk around here. We walk our dogs here. We bring our kids here," she said. "If we see men loitering, if we see men just hanging around, and we don’t know whether they’re safe or not, we don’t know whether they’re your security or not, there’s nothing we can do but avoid this area."

The press was not allowed to attend the meeting in order to keep the identities of DHS clients confidential, according to DHS staff members. They also said that a media presence would make it difficult to quickly reach solutions and maintained that just because members of the public were at a meeting did not mean it was a public meeting.