Following the announcement at the end of November that an emergency homeless shelter housing families would be opening this month on McDonald Avenue, hundreds of Kensington residents showed up to hear more information about shelter at a community meeting hosted at PS230 Thursday night. The school’s auditorium was packed with both concerned and supportive members of the neighborhood.
The meeting, organized by Council member Brad Lander, included a panel of officials who started the meeting by sharing more detailed information about the shelter and how it will be run.
Members of the panel included Council member Lander, Assembly member James Brennan, Captain Kenneth Quick of the 66th Precinct, Matt Borden, Assistant Commissioner of Government Affairs for the Department of Homeless Services (DHS), Doreen Howe, Associate Commissioner of Transition Services for DHS, Louis Molina, Senior Advisor to the Commissioner for Security and Emergency Operations for DHS, CAMBA CEO Joanne Oplustil, Valerie Barton-Richardson, CAMBA Vice President for Education & Youth Development, and Sharon Brown, CAMBA Vice President for Housing Services & Development.
Many on the panel emphasized that the need for this shelter is serious. Many of the families that will be moving in have found themselves homeless due to economic conditions. The lack of affordable housing throughout the city is one of the biggest causes of homelessness for small families like the ones who will be living in the shelter.
“As a practical matter, we need to deal with this,” said Assembly member Brennan. “We need to be welcoming to the children.”
After each member of the panel made short statements regarding the facility, the floor was opened to questions from the community, moderated by neighbor Larry Jason, President of the Albemarle Block Association.
Questions came from all sides. Many were concerned about the safety and security of the facility, which DHS officials tried to quell by outlining the screening process for being placed in the shelter and describing the security procedures that will be in place.
A number of those at the meeting felt blindsided by lack of community notice regarding the shelter, a sentiment shared by Council member Lander. He said he would ask the city administration to look at changing the policy, but emphasized that the de Blasio administration has provided much more notice regarding emergency shelters than the Bloomberg administration did.
Others wondered what effect the family shelter would have on the local schools. Although the actual age of children who will be living in the shelter is currently unknown, DHS says many children living in shelters tend to stay at their current schools. On average, only about five students in a shelter this size end up enrolling in the local schools.
Several asked about the possibility of the facility changing from a family shelter to a different kind of facility, such as a men’s shelter. DHS representative Doreen Howe said that while she was not in a position to guarantee anything, she didn’t see the need for family shelters diminishing anytime soon and it is likely that this location will become a long term family shelter.
One resident who owns a home nearby asked how the shelter might affect his property value. Lander pointed out the women’s shelter located in the Park Slope Armory on 8th Avenue and 14th Street, which houses women who have a history of mental illness and substance abuse. “The property values in that area have skyrocketed, regardless of a homeless shelter being in the area,” said Lander.
Many announced their support for the shelter and asked how they could help. Residents were directed to the group of community members who have been organizing to support the shelter. Those interested in getting involved can email firstname.lastname@example.org. Members of the PTAs for PS230 and PS130 announced that they will be doing a diaper drive for the shelter.
DHS also announced that a Community Advisory Board would be set up for the shelter in conjunction with CAMBA. They encouraged interested community members to join and said the first meeting would probably be at the end of January.
The meeting ended with a plea from District 15 Elementary Superintendent Anita Skop for the neighborhood to show compassion for the families moving into the shelter, many of whom have faced unfortunate circumstances that have lead to their homelessness.
Overall, the meeting, which lasted for over two hours, was largely civil and informative for the community. Many said they came away with a better understanding of the situation.