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Crown Heights Shelter to Open Next Week Despite Petition for Its Closure

By Rachel Holliday Smith | March 16, 2017 3:46pm | Updated on March 17, 2017 7:45pm
 A resident holds up a sign telling the city to enforce the
A resident holds up a sign telling the city to enforce the "Fair Share" law in regards to homeless shelters at a public meeting Wednesday night at P-TECH High School in Crown Heights. The meeting addressed a new shelter to open on Bergen Street.
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DNAinfo/Rachel Holliday Smith

CROWN HEIGHTS — A new shelter for more than 100 senior men will open next week as planned, the city says, despite a petition from neighbors that says the area is already getting more than its fair share of homeless housing.

The shelter at 1173 Bergen St., slated to open Wednesday, will provide 106 beds for men 62 years old and up — an age minimum increased from 50 years old following the initial uproar when the community first learned of the location earlier this month, officials said.

But in the week before its opening, residents from the block and surrounding areas are continuing to petition the city in person and online to reverse course.

More than 200 people have signed a petition calling on the mayor to stop the shelter from opening. And at a public meeting Wednesday night, dozens of residents railed against the project, criticizing the city for a lack of communication and for oversaturating Crown Heights with shelters.

 This building on Bergen Street between New York and Brooklyn avenues in Crown Heights will become a shelter for 106 homeless men, the city said.
This building on Bergen Street between New York and Brooklyn avenues in Crown Heights will become a shelter for 106 homeless men, the city said.
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DNAinfo/Rachel Holliday Smith

“Why aren’t you asking surrounding districts to do their fair share?” asked Bergen Street Block Association president Fior Ortiz, cheered by a crowd holding signs telling officials to “enforce the Fair Share law” — a 1989 city charter revision that aimed to more equally distribute facilities such as homeless shelters and waste transfer stations throughout the city.

“This community should not be a dumping ground,” said Desmond Atkins, a longtime Crown Heights resident and Brooklyn Community Board 8 member.

In response, representatives of the Department of Homeless Services and the mayor’s office emphasized that, as part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to overhaul DHS, a total of five sites in CB8 would close as the Bergen Street shelter opens.

“Over the course of this plan, we are actually going to take a reduction of beds here in CB8,” said mayoral aide Lincoln Restler. “We’re closing down cluster sites as well as hotel sites where we were unable to provide the quality of services our clients deserve.”

Councilman Robert Cornegy, who represents the area, said he understood the need for homeless services, but was “troubled” by the lack of communication on this project, which he learned about through constituents and a meeting with CORE Services, the operator at the site. He asked the city to delay the shelter’s opening.

“I’m not yelling ‘shut it down’” he said. “I’m saying we need a little bit more time.”

Representatives of the mayor’s office and DHS said the March 22 opening date has not changed.

"We are committed to engaging communities as we open shelter sites across the five boroughs, taking into account community feedback and working to address neighborhood concerns. But make no mistake, we will open shelters across the city as outlined in our borough-based shelter plan, and we encourage all communities to join us at the table as we move forward,” said City Hall spokeswoman Jacyln Rothenberg.

The Bergen Street facility is among the first of 90 new shelters to be opened in the city under the mayor's new plan and one of three coming to the Crown Heights area in the near future. The others include a family shelter on Rogers Avenue and a 90-bed women’s shelter in Prospect Heights. Citywide, the homeless population is around 60,000 and the mayor's plan seeks to reduce that number by 2,500.