EAST FLATBUSH — For the 35 years Gail Dixon has lived in East Flatbush, she says there have always been some problems with homeless people on her block. People loiter, leave trash and sometimes trespass.
But lately, the problem has become more “in your face,” on East 48th and 49th streets south of Clarkson Avenue where she is president of the block association, she said. Human feces have been left on her sidewalk, panhandling is pervasive and some of her neighbors have even had potted plants stolen from their gardens.
“They sit on our stoops. Our homes become bathrooms. They urinate all over them. They smoke what they have to smoke,” she said.
At a town hall meeting Thursday night, Dixon and dozens of others told the city exactly where they thought the uptick came from: a new residence for homeless people that opened nearby at the former Kingsboro Psychiatric Center this winter, which is slated to nearly triple in size over the summer.
Thirty-nine formerly homeless men moved into state-owned building in January to create the city’s newest “Safe Haven” — a specially run facility used exclusively to house chronically homeless people referred by outreach workers who comb New York streets to bring in those living outside.
A total of 110 people will ultimately live there, however, with 71 more residents (both men and women, according to the facility’s operator, Breaking Ground) moving into a second building over the summer.
The move has angered locals who say they were unaware of the plans for the facility and want more details about security and its programs. They are furious their neighborhood will absorb more housing for the homeless on top of the Kingsboro Men's Shelter, located down the block on Clarkson Avenue, and two supportive housing facilities run by CAMBA on Albany Avenue.
“We have all of these homeless people. Then you say, come bring another 110? That’s fair? Come on,” said Bridgette Davis, a homeowner on Schenectady Avenue who works at the one remaining psychiatric facility at Kingsboro, located at 681 Clarkson Ave.
Officials from Breaking Ground and DHS answered questions from residents and attempted to assuage the fears and frustrations voiced at the more than two-hour meeting, which frequently devolved into shouting.
Doug Becht, assistant vice president at Breaking Ground, emphasized that three security guards monitor the building and grounds at all times, residents are checked in and out at a gated entrance and while clients are not prohibited from leaving, group activities and social services discourage them from spending much time away from the program.
“It’s incredibly important to us not only to be good neighbors — which we are 100 percent committed to being — but it’s really important to the clients that we provide an incredibly safe environment,” he said.
Many residents at Thursday's meeting also expressed anger they didn’t hear about the project until after it opened, including retiree Joyce Gilman, a resident of East 45th Street since 1970.
“No one came around to tell us anything,” she said, speaking loudly to the panel of officials. “You don’t care about us in the community. I have to think about all those derelicts that are walking up the block.”
“Take them home with you,” she added, her voice breaking.
Breaking Ground insisted notification was made in the fall to elected officials and Brooklyn Community Board 9. But the border of CB9 ends on the north side of Clarkson Avenue, across the street from Brooklyn Community Board 17 where many of the attendees of Thursday’s meeting live.
CB17’s chairman Barrington Barrett said he didn’t know about the facility until “after the fact.”
“No one respected us to come by and say well, listen … it will affect the people who reside on the other side of the street,” he said.
Assemblywoman Diana Richardson said that she, too, did not receive notice.
Her counterpart in the senate, State Sen. Jesse Hamilton, railed on the city, calling out Mayor Bill de Blasio for “disrespecting us” and demanding locals to go to court as Crown Heights residents have done to stop a 104-bed homeless shelter slated to open on Bergen Street as part of the mayor's overhaul of DHS.
“I’m tired of talking to people. We’ve got tp get together, pool our money and start filing a lawsuit,” he said, to cheering. “The only time they listen is when we file a lawsuit and bring legal action.”
The East Flatbush Safe Haven facility is not part of de Blasio's "Turning the Tide" plan to create 90 new homeless shelters citywide, and DHS does not consider it part of the traditional shelter system. (At the most basic level, Safe Havens function more as treatment facilities and receive residents through a completely separate referral system.)
But to the East Flatbush residents, those differences were lost and the new location means one thing: more homeless people in their neighborhood.
“Everyone knew what was coming here and said absolutely nothing," said Dixon, the block association president. "We’re becoming a dumping ground.”
The city, however, says the decision was made "because the building was given to us from the state and it was capacity that we needed," not to target or overburden East Flatbush, said Danielle Minelli Pagnotta, Associate Commissioner of DHS.
"This was an available spot for us to go into. There wasn’t any grand plan behind that to come into this specific community, to target this specific community," she said. "It was that the building became available."
DHS spokesman Isaac McGinn said the city needs "every community to come together" to address the challenges of homelessness, which includes getting chronically homeless residents into specialized housing like that at the East Flatbush site.
"Helping street homeless New Yorkers transition indoors requires persistent and compassionate outreach coupled with sites geared towards clients who are often resistant to accepting services," he said in a statement on Friday.
"We will be using this location as a safe haven to help homeless neighbors in Brooklyn off the streets into a setting where we can most effectively work with them to get them rehoused."