CROWN HEIGHTS — At a raucous public meeting Saturday, a plan to put a 106-bed men’s shelter on Bergen Street — one of 90 homeless shelters planned by the mayor citywide — was met with near-unanimous anger and contempt from locals, who told city officials to “shut it down.”
Questions about security at the site and criticism of the city’s communication about the shelter, set to open March 22 at 1173 Bergen St., were top of mind for many attendees of the standing-room-only meeting inside the newly renovated shelter.
For nearly three hours, representatives from the mayor’s office, the Human Resources Administration and CORE Services, the group running the shelter, tried to answer inquiries through repeated interruptions and outbursts from the frustrated crowd.
“Why is this being done?” asked Jennifer Scott, a mother of an 8-year-old daughter who practices in a marching band at Union United Methodist Church, directly neighboring the shelter.
“You have children who are walking home and who go home by themselves, who take home their siblings by themselves. We already have the men’s shelter over here on Bedford and Pacific,” she said, referring to the 350-bed shelter in a former armory on Atlantic Avenue. “It’s not right. It’s not fair.”
That sentiment — that the area is already oversaturated with shelters — was repeated many times by residents and elected officials at the meeting. City Councilmember Robert Cornegy said there are between 15 and 19 shelters in the district already.
“I understand the necessity for this. I just want to make sure that we’re looking across the board and all communities are bearing the burden of homeless in this city, not just Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights,” he said at the meeting.
CORE Services president Jack Brown defended the plan for the shelter, which will serve men over 50 years old with no mental health issues or histories of sex offenses, the city said in a fact sheet about the site distributed before and during the meeting.
Brown acknowledged residents’ fears, particularly about the location being a men’s shelter.
“I get it. Men are scary,” he said. “But these men are coming from fractured families. If we’re able to work with these men, to get them back on their feet, we also help the same families that have been fractured.”
“We can’t deal with homeless children and homeless mothers without dealing with homeless men,” he said, to scattered clapping from about a dozen people.
Many residents also voiced criticism of the city’s communication about the project; the city has said they will give communities a 30-day notice for a shelter opening, but many attendees said they only heard about the plan this week.
That fact didn’t sit well with Assemblymember Diana Richardson, who represents the shelter’s block.
“I’m not anti-shelter. … I was once homeless myself,” she said. “But I am anti-disrespect, OK? The way that the city of New York is dealing with us in terms of communication, or the lack of communication, is disrespectful,” she said.
“We’ve got to shut this down. And I’m saying it right in their face: Shut it down,” she said to loud cheering, facing the panel of city officials.
It’s unclear how or if the plan for opening the shelter could be delayed or stopped. One resident asked “How do we begin legal proceedings to shut this down? while another attendee asked: “Do we have a lawyer in the room?”
After Saturday's meeting, a spokeswoman for the mayor, Jaclyn Rothenberg, emphasized "we all must do our part" to help homeless people in every community.
"As the mayor outlined this past week, to meet immediate needs and with a goal of reducing the overall footprint of the system, we are getting out of 360 current shelter facilities and replacing them with 90 new, safe shelters," she said in a statement.
A representative of the mayor said that given Saturday’s overflow of attendees — some of whom were stopped at the door to prevent overcrowding — another meeting about the shelter will be scheduled before its opening. That date to is yet to be determined.
The Bergen Street shelter is not the only one opening soon in the Crown Heights area. Three of the first four shelters to be opened by the city are in Crown Heights and Prospect Heights, one on Rogers Avenue south of Eastern Parkway and the other in neighboring Prospect Heights.
On Tuesday, the mayor called for 90 new shelters citywide to address the record homelessness crisis, estimated now around 60,000 people in the city. The first of the 90 opened last week in The Bronx.