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Homeless Say 'We Are Your Neighbors Too' as Residents Oppose New Shelter

 Community members, including the homeless, came out to vocalize their opinions on a proposed shelter in East Harlem.
Community members, including the homeless, came out to vocalize their opinions on a proposed shelter in East Harlem.
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DNAinfo/Dartunorro Clark

HARLEM — Plans for a new homeless shelter in East Harlem were pushed through without community input and are being opposed by neighbors, officials said Thursday.

State Assemblymen Robert Rodriguez and Keith Wright, along with Manhattan Community Board 11 Chair Diane Collier, complained at a press conference that the neighborhood was being saturated with its unfair share of shelters and called for the latest proposal to be scrapped.

“You just cannot put shelters in without any thought, without any process,” Wright said. “If we don’t speak out no one will.”

The city is proposing the shelter at Holy Rosary Church, at 428 E. 119th St. 

Rodriguez said the process by which shelters must go through — called a Uniform Land Use Review Process — has not been carried out.

The Department of Homeless Services said the spaces, however, are crucial.

"The 'safe haven' spaces at Holy Rosary are being made available as the result of an important partnership between the Archdiocese of New York and the City and will bring 35 homeless New Yorkers off of the street and connect them to critical social services,” a spokesman for the agency said.

“The City is grateful to the faith leaders spearheading this effort to provide compassion and services to our fellow New Yorkers who need it most.”

But Collier said she opposed it to ease a burden on East Harlem by having other neighborhoods chip in to help balance the scales, as well as following a process that requires community input when new shelters are proposed 

Officials estimate East Harlem has roughly 1,660 beds for the homeless in the densely populated neighborhood, which comprises 1.5 square miles.

“We urge other communities to also shoulder the burden,” Rodriguez said.

However, some community members who are homeless said the issue goes beyond the unequal share of shelters.

Tito Garcia, 52, said he has been in a shelter for three years and has yet to have a landlord accept his city housing voucher.

Garcia, who works at an events company on Long Island, said the city should step up and find more ways to help the homeless population transition from the shelters to affordable housing, and then maybe the shelter need will decrease.

“It’s like the government is turning their back on us,” he said. “I have a housing voucher and no landlord will take it.

“I’m in need and nobody is helping. It’s hard.”