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Homeless Outreach Deemed 'Abysmal' at New East Harlem Shelter

By Dartunorro Clark | September 7, 2016 3:40pm
 At the community board meeting, the board grilled the agency on its outreach to East Harlem.
At the community board meeting, the board grilled the agency on its outreach to East Harlem.
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DNAinfo/Dartunorro Clark

EAST HARLEM — The city has been "abysmal" at filling a new homeless shelter with local people in need, its neighbors told officials.

Community board members and dozens of residents called out representatives of the city Department of Homeless Services at a meeting Tuesday, saying it's failed in its promise to use the facility to alleviate problems directly affecting East Harlem.

The officials had been giving a 20-minute presentation on the new shelter which opened in July at the former Holy Rosary Church, at 428 E. 119th St.

But that presentation soon went well over the allotted time as many residents and board members took particular issue with the number of East Harlem residents currently in the shelter.

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

So far, only two out of 16 beds in use have gone to East Harlem residents. The city is in the process of filling 35 spots.

“That’s pretty abysmal,” said Xavier Santiago, the vice-chair of the housing committee. “Because we do have an epidemic.”

The community had expected that residents of East Harlem would get priority in the shelter, which DHS representatives said is an adults-only facility.

Nilsa Orama, a board member, said it’s imperative that the agency work to increase the numbers.

“I urge you to look at your outreach,” she said.

The agency said it has a comprehensive street outreach program, but it takes time to build relationships to get some homeless people into shelters.

Also, a representative said, some homeless in the community want to be at other city shelters outside the community.

“We could do a better job on our end,” said Marian Moorer, the assistant commissioner for street homeless solutions. 

Community members have also raised concerns about the shelter being opened without community input. One of the main concerns, residents said, is the saturation of shelters in the community, DNAinfo New York previously reported.

Officials said at a press conference in July that the process shelters must go through — called a Uniform Land Use Review Process — had not been carried out.

The discussion got particularly heated when community members questioned the outreach, specifically the local homeless who said they have tried — but failed — to get into the shelter.

Cecelia Grant, a retired city school officer who found herself homeless after returning to East Harlem in 2013 after moving to Florida in 2001, said she was turned away.

“There’s no excuse for people to be living like this,” said Grant. “Give people back their dignity.”

Grant, also a member of the organization Picture the Homeless, said searching for shelters due to the lack of permanent housing available has been acutely distressing.

“It has ruined my life,” she said. “I used to be a stable, optimistic person.”

The board, members said, is planning another meeting with the department to heed community concerns about issues such as a safety and other protocols at the site as well as giving priority to homeless locals, which the agency said it was willing to do.