Local Electeds Push Back on Planned Family Shelter At Former Brooklyn College Dorm

Local Electeds Push Back on Planned Family Shelter At Former Brooklyn College Dorm
1 Kenilworth Place. Joe Strini /PropertyShark

A group of Flatbush-area elected officials is pushing back on the city’s plans to open a homeless shelter at the site of a recently-closed student housing facility near Brooklyn College.

The city’s Department of Social Services (DSS) is looking to retrofit the former dorm at 1 Kenilworth Place, known as Residence Hall @ Brooklyn College, into a shelter with space for 107 families with children that would be operated by the not-for-profit service provider CAMBA.

“This high-quality facility will offer 107 families with children experiencing homelessness the opportunity to get back on their feet safely and closer to their anchors of life in these unprecedented times,” A DSS spokesperson said in a statement provided to Bklyner. “Working together with neighbors and not-for-profit service provider CAMBA, we’re confident that these New Yorkers will be warmly welcomed—and through collaborative support and compassion, we will make this the best experience it can be for all.”

DSS notified Brooklyn Community Board 14 (CB14), where the proposed shelter is located, about its plans on December 28th, and is hoping to open the facility in late 2022.

CAMBA is headquartered in Flatbush, and offers services ranging from homelessness prevention and supportive housing to employment training, after-school programs, small business support and health services. The organization’s website says they serve more than 65,000 individuals and families annually across the city’s five boroughs. In 2018, 86% of the organization’s $169 million budget came from city and state grants.

But city and state legislators representing the area say they’re strongly opposed to the plan, citing concerns about CAMBA’s track record, as well as a desire to see the space used for senior housing instead.

In a joint statement, City Council Member Farah Louis, State Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn and State Senator Kevin Parker said “the most immediate needs of the district are affordable housing for CUNY students and seniors as well as supportive services.”

“CAMBA is ill-equipped to manage any proposed shelter based upon its poor track record with two other sites in the community that has demonstrated little to no progress with delivering critical services on-site,” the statement said. “Community leadership and local residents do not have confidence in CAMBA’s ability to become a resource to those in need, and CAMBA has not tried to assess the needs of the community.”

When asked which two other sites the statement referred to, Kristia Winter, a spokesperson for Louis, pointed to a CAMBA after-school program operating at PS361 in East Flatbush that’s “not providing services they’re supposed to be providing.” She then referenced two CAMBA shelters in Brownsville, the Flagstone Family Center and the Magnolia House Women’s Shelter.

CAMBA operates a total of six family shelters and five single-adult shelters across Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx. In the city’s most recent “shelter repair scorecard,” issued in November, CAMBA had 41 open violations from the network of agencies that inspect shelter conditions, of which 37 belonged to either Flagstone or the Magnolia House.

The Flagstone, a facility made up of eight four-story walk-up apartment buildings in Brownsville that serves 160 families, had 31 open violations. All were from the city’s Department of Housing Preservation & Development.

Magnolia House Women’s Shelter, which serves up to 200 single women, had six open violations; five were from the New York City Fire Department, and one was from the Department of Buildings.

The city’s report card includes information about the agency that issued the violation, but does not provide specifics on the type of violation or its severity. CAMBA referred a request for comment back to DSS.

According to information provided by DSS, there are currently 417 individuals from Brooklyn CB14 living in shelters around the city, but only 83 individuals sheltered within the district, meaning the area has approximately 335 fewer beds than what would be required to house its homeless population.

That number apparently does not include a planned 190-bed men’s shelter set to be opened at 21 Duryea Place near Kings Theatre, which will be operated by the nonprofit Black Veterans For Social Justice.

21 Duryea Place, October 2020 Liena Zagare/Bklyner

DSS said it would prioritize the placement of individuals from the area at the 1 Kenilworth site. It said CAMBA would provide case management, housing placement assistance, health services and employment counseling at the site. They also said CAMBA would enforce a 9:00 pm curfew at the site, as is standard for families with children in the shelter system, and would provide 24-hour on-site security as well as a hotline for neighbors to voice concerns.

1 Kenilworth Place previously served as a privately-owned housing facility for Brooklyn College students, but was closed last year. According to a university publication, the Brooklyn College Vanguard, students had complained about conditions at the dorm for years, citing “the hostile environment, outrageous cost, mold, and lack of promised Residence Assistant support.”

A student-made film released in 2018 documented the alleged sexual assault of Christine DeLisser, a student living at Residence Hall Brooklyn College (RHBC), by a staffer of the facility.

Attempts to reach the property owner, New Brooklyn Development LLC, were unsuccessful. DSS did not provide information on whether the city and CAMBA planned to purchase the building or rent it from its existing owners, or details about a financial transaction. The city’s property records database shows no record of a recent sale.