DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — A judge Tuesday put another hurdle in front of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plans to open 90 new homeless shelters citywide by extending a temporary restraining order that prevents the opening of a men's facility in Crown Heights.
The next court date for the case will be set for sometime after April 7.
Brooklyn Supreme Court judge Katherine Levine granted an injunction Tuesday that halts this week's planned opening at 1173 Bergen St. after hearing arguments from an attorney representing two block associations and more than 30 residents waging a legal battle to keep the men’s shelter off their block.
The facility, Bergen House, would house 104 men over the age of 62, according to the operator, CORE Services. The location is one of the first of 90 new homeless shelters planned by the city in an overhaul of the Department of Homeless Services, announced by the mayor last month.
The Bergen Street facility has faced serious backlash in Crown Heights from residents who have said in public meetings, in a petition and, now, in a lawsuit that they don’t want another shelter in a neighborhood already full of beds for the homeless.
That argument was front and center at Tuesday’s hearing where Levine grilled both sides on whether or not she should consider how “Fair Share” — guidelines in the City Charter regarding the equal distribution of city facilities such as garbage transfer stations and homeless shelters — was adequately followed in the case.
The plaintiffs attorney, Jacqueline McMickens, argued Crown Heights is already overburdened by homeless shelters and the Bergen Street shelter should not open without consideration of Fair Share.
In response, attorneys from the city argued they are required to conduct a Fair Share analysis for 1173 Bergen St., a document completed and released Monday, but no public input is required on that analysis before the shelter opens.
Levine, however, seemed skeptical about whether or not the city correctly followed Fair Share in the creation of the shelter, rhetorically asking why the administration chose to put three of five of the first new homeless shelter in the Crown Heights area.
“Why wouldn’t they show good faith and decide to put one in Park Slope or Carroll Gardens?” the judge asked.
Before she can consider the issue, she ruled to “maintain the status quo” at the empty shelter and prevent needless movement of its future residents, in the case the court rules in favor of the residents at a future date.
“It would be ridiculous to take these men out of their shelters, schlep them to Crown Heights,” and then decide the fate of the Bergen Street facility, she said.
After Tuesday's ruling, DHS said in a statement the judge's decision keeps "104 homeless seniors from being sheltered in their home borough and requires the use of more commercial hotel rooms that we otherwise would not have to rent," said spokesman Isaac McGinn. The city's new policy tries to keep homeless people close to the neighborhoods where they last lived before becoming homeless.
But, he added, the city is "undeterred in our commitment to opening this site."
"We are exploring all of our legal options, including an immediate appeal," he said.
The city is trying to handle a record-high homeless population, estimated around 60,000 people. The mayor's new plan to build 90 new shelters would reduce that number by 2,500 over the next few years.