The second informational meeting on the men’s shelter slated for 1173 Bergen Street raised tempers last night but garnered few answers.
“Answer the question!” many locals opposing the shelter shouted at panelists representing CORE Services (the agency that will operate the shelter), the Department of Homeless Services, Mayor de Blasio’s office, and Community Board 8.
Prior to the meeting, CORE provided handouts answering questions raised by the community during the first informational meeting on March 4. The documents state that the facility will provide transitional housing for 104 senior homeless men aged 62 and up—the minimum age being raised from 50-years-old in response to community concerns.
CORE also assured neighbors that the shelter will have 24-hour security, 45 CCTV cameras monitoring the interior and exterior of the building, and a 10pm curfew for residents.
CORE also answered a question raised in the last meeting about the salary of the organization’s CEO, Jack Brown, whose earns $194,000 annually, which they insist is “in line with the adjusted median salary for nonprofit human services executives’ salaries” in this region.
Unsatisfied with the city’s lack of transparency and overall handling of the project, local community groups have mobilized in the past couple of weeks to fight against the opening of Crown Heights’ 20th homeless shelter.
Local block associations from St. Marks Avenue, Dean Street, Bergen Street, as well as the Union United Methodist Church and the nonprofit Crown Heights Revitalization Movement joined forces and put together a data sheet that was distributed at the meeting.
Jennifer Catto, an officer for the Dean Street Block Association (Brooklyn/Kingston Avenues) says the community compiled the data sheet due to the “absence of transparent city data.”
The group also held up signs during the meeting displaying some of the statistics they found. They claim:
1173 Bergen Street will be the 20th Homeless Shelter in Crown Heights
Crown Heights, Bed-Stuy, and Brownsville have more shelter beds than all of Brooklyn combined
Crown Heights has more shelter beds than seven predominantly white neighborhoods in Brooklyn combined (Community Board Districts 6, 7, 10, 11, 12, 13, and 15).
Crown Heights currently has 1,779 shelter beds and Bed-Stuy has 1,527, while Park Slope (CB6) has 331 and Flatbush (CB14) has 205. Bay Ridge (CB10) and Bensonhurst (CB 11) have zero.
During a Q&A session where community members were given 90 seconds to voice their concerns and ask the panelists questions, Catto took the mic and stated:
“For-profit organizations like CORE—you come into poor communities. You buy a cheap building and you house people in warehouses, which is what 1173 Bergen Street is. It’s a warehouse.”
She continued, “There are over 300 residents who have signed a petition in opposition to the opening of this shelter. We are oversaturated. We want the fair share criteria to be enforced.”
A representative for the Department of Homeless Services stated that five facilities in the Crown Heights district would be closed this year. He said, “This shelter…it’s in the context of seven sites that we’re closing down. The first site is going to close this month. Two sites are going to close in June, and two additional sites. Five sites will close this calendar year.”
Two additional facilities in the area are also scheduled to be shut down for a total of seven. “In total, over the course of this plan we’re going to see a reduction in beds here in CB 8 than what we have today,” he said.
When questions were asked about the programming and what types of activities would be offered to the shelter’s residents to prevent them from sleeping on neighboring stoops or hanging out at the nearby school, Brown answered with another question.
“Why are we constantly criminalizing homeless people?,” he asked, causing an uproar in the crowd, with people shouting, “That’s not the point!”
Frustrations were also raised about CORE’s lack of respect, transparency, and accountability for locals and the neighborhood. A resident stated, “What we want to know is why this facility has to open before [the community] gets to see the contract? We want to see the contract and hold CORE responsible for the promises they’ve made. We want to see it in writing.”
A public hearing is scheduled for April 20 regarding the procurement of 1173 Bergen Street, with CORE’s contract detailing its programming and policies being available to the public on April 10, more than two weeks after the shelter is scheduled to open on March 22.
Council Member (36th District) Robert E. Cornegy Jr, representing Bed-Stuy and Northern Crown Heights, was the last to speak at the two-hour meeting.
He also expressed his frustrations about not being properly informed about the plans for the shelter, saying that he learned about it from community members.
“As an elected official I personally feel that it would have been better to approach me in an appropriate timeline so I could articulate [the plans] to my constituents. I cannot in due process say anything positive about the project because constituents came to me prior to the administration coming to me.”
He continued, “The first disrespect was not to tell me. The second was not to sit with me and outline what the opening would be like, what the programming would be like.” He adds that lack of proper programming in these facilities often leads to their residents loitering and panhandling, etc.
“I’m not yelling, ‘shut it down.’ I’m asking to delay the process so that people can have a better understanding and more comfortable feeling with this opening,” he said.
“I’m saying give it a little bit more time to assess whether this is conducive for this community.”
After the meeting, Lynn Cave, a resident of Crown Heights for 35 years and an officer for the Dean Street Block Association (Brooklyn/Kingston Avenues), said she was disappointed.
“I think a lot of time was wasted. I didn’t feel like they answered our questions. They treated the audience like children,” she said.
Catto agreed, saying the panelists “purposely killed time to avoid questions.”
She adds, “When you look at the data it is very clear the city has violated the fair share criteria. The neighborhood is oversaturated, Crown Heights is oversaturated. We have lost 2/3 of our hospitals. 20% of our schools are on the failing schools list…yet we’re opening the 20th shelter? That just defies logic.”
The group of local associations Catto is working with plans to seek legal action to prevent the shelter from opening.