With homelessness a growing concern in Sunset Park, Community Board 7 (CB 7) came together Wednesday, March 30, to discuss the issue — particularly as it surrounds the Red Carpet Inn (536 39th Street), which has been used as a site for temporary housing without the community’s knowledge.
Cesar Zuniga, the first vice-chair of the board, opened the proceedings with a call for a calm and productive session that focused on the issues, but emotion and frustration boiled over in the audience over things like public safety, city transparency, and basic compassion for neighbors.
The main issues revolved around safety from the portion of the homeless adults who are ex-cons, and a lack of communication between the city and community leaders.
A representative from the city’s Human Resource Administration (HRA) said that the residence was temporary housing for people looking for work, and that she is “100 percent sure” that there are no sex offenders there.
She also responded to leaders’ chafing over not being notified of the housing program’s arrival by stating that the city “did not have to tell” the community.
She was referencing a 1981 New York City law that declared a homelessness emergency and gave the city the power to act with impunity. She also said that the legal status of the people living there was not information that public has a right to access.
Still, some residents complained that they did not feel safe letting their kids walk near the area. Another woman asked if it still possible to book a room online in the Inn. Which it is, via online reservation. Although there is no information on their website indicating that the city is using the building as temporary housing.
The group also discussed a homeless shelter operated on 49th Street, by operator Samaritan Village.
Samaritan’s Matt Gordon also spoke, emphasizing security measures that have been taken to ensure that residents are comfortable with the shelter. Gordon also described the work that they have been doing in the shelter, emphasizing the success they have had with their clients.
However, Gordon admitted that Samaritan has not installed all of the promised security cameras around the shelter that had been requested by community members and groups. Gordon was chastised for the tardiness of the cameras by the community members and was asked about incidents of men seen smoking marijuana outside the shelter.
One resident, Carmen Maria Rey, spoke out against those in the meeting who were critical of the shelters by asking them to reflect on what it means to be a compassionate member of a community.
“Those who are homeless are also members of the community, we should not be making them feel like they’re not wanted,” said Rey. “We are very, very lucky compared other neighborhoods and we should not pathologize this problem.”
Tom Murphy, a long-time resident and active member of the community board, countered Rey by stating that “the mayor slapped out faces by putting the shelter in this neighborhood and not telling us.”
Note: This story has been updated to reflect the fact that the shelter operated by Samaritan Village is different from the temporary housing operated by the city at Red Carpet Inn.