MIDTOWN — Plans for an emergency homeless shelter in the Flatiron are momentarily on hold after dozens of angry neighbors crammed into a community meeting to voice their outrage at the planned facility.
Homeless advocacy group Breaking Ground pledged at a Community Board 5 meeting to freeze plans to open a 47-bed facility at 25 W. 24th St. for homeless adults, after so many neighbors showed up that they were spilling out into the hall of the board's office on Seventh Avenue and crushing against each other to shout their opposition.
Residents were primarily concerned about the concentration of homeless services in the immediate area, considering there's a 300-bed facility neighbors have complained about for years only blocks away on West 25th Street between Sixth and Seventh avenues.
Carin Barbanel, who lives on 28th Street between Sixth and Seventh avenues, said her neighborhood has been overrun with men who leer at her 15-year-old daughter and try to sell drugs to her 18-year-old son. She fears the addition of a new shelter will only make things worse.
“We had to call 911 three times last week because there were men outside who made my daughter afraid to leave the building,” she said.
After several tense minutes, during which neighbors of the planned shelter shouted down officials at every turn, the committee agreed to table the discussion and hold a meeting in a larger venue in about two weeks.
Once that delay was agreed upon, a representative of Breaking Ground agreed to halt the project until the public could be properly briefed, even though the city is authorized to move ahead with the project with or without the community board’s approval.
But before Breaking Ground’s spokeswoman agreed to postpone the plans, a top official with the Department of Homeless Services stood defiant. Matthew Borden, an assistant commissioner at the Department of Homeless Services, defended the planned shelter and pledged to move forward even in the face of community opposition.
“Let me be clear,” Borden said. “We are committed to this project going forward. Delaying this meeting will only prevent you from hearing about it.”
Borden’s remark drew howls from the crowd.
“I don’t want crackheads ruining the quality of life here,” shouted Anthony Stanhope, a resident of West 24th Street.
If Breaking Ground and DHS open a facility in the building, they will do so through a temporary contract with the landlord and do not need approval from the community board to move forward, Borden said.
As Borden left the room he was mobbed by TV cameras and angry residents, some of whom angrily accused him of trying to move the project forward without regard for the neighborhood.
Pushing through the crowd, Borden deferred to Breaking Ground’s decision to pause the project, pending public comment.
"DHS is committed to finding safe beds for homeless people,” Borden said. “Breaking Ground is a terrific provider and we’re happy to be in business with them. And if Breaking Ground is determined they want to put a pause on this project and come again, we’re happy to do that.”
The video below shows Matthew Borden, in glasses and a suit, leaving the meeting, hounded by reporters and several 24th Street residents: