Bed-Stuy women’s shelter residents scattered across the city to make room for over 100 homeless men

photo of a homeless shelter in manhattan
A Manhattan shelter run by the Bowery Residents’ Committee.
Photo by Caroline Ourso

Residents of a Bedford-Stuyvesant women’s shelter have been given less than 30 days to pack their bags as the city seeks to repopulate the refuge with homeless men, according to locals and shelter residents. 

The shelter at 85 Lexington Ave., operated by Bowery Residents Committee (BRC), is being repurposed as a men’s shelter, with a special focus on men with mental illness, which neighbors and shelter residents say was dropped on their head with little warning. 

“Nobody had notice, the case managers told us that it was a surprise to them as much as it was to us,” said Tonya Williams, who has lived at the shelter for nine months. 

Shelter residents were notified on Dec. 4 that they would be out by January. 

Women who had been staying in the shelter have begun to be relocated to other shelters in the city’s system, being sent out in carloads at night, with some ending up as far-away as the Bronx and uptown Manhattan — and some fleeing the program altogether and choosing to fend for themselves, locals say.

Wherever they end up, shelter residents will have to go through the intake process again, which according to Williams can take anywhere from hours to days, but is reliably dehumanizing. 

“You may sit there for a day or two with little to no sleep and no ability to wash yourself,” she said. “It can be pretty inhumane.”

“They are now being separated from their support system, their own community of women who all live together in the building,” said Keiko Niccolini, a Lexington Avenue resident who is circulating a petition opposing the change of use. “They are not having continuity in their access to services so their treatment is being affected and set back.” 

Keiko Niccolini (far left) with her daughter Rayas, and Angela McCall. Niccolini is petitioning for the changes to be called off. Photo by Caroline Ourso

Niccolini says the shelter residents were good neighbors, and that her and her neighbors are concerned about the new shelter residents bringing an unpredictable element to the residential neighborhood – and neighbors’ questions have gone unanswered by Department of Homeless Services bigwigs. 

“The needs of 100 homeless men with mental health issues… present an entirely different set of needs,” Niccolini said. “Is there a need for additional security? Are there sex offenders that are being brought in?” 

In emails obtained by the Brooklyn Paper, the CEO and president of BRC concedes that the transfers at the Bed-Stuy shelter were completely the decision of the DHS, and that BRC employees were kept in the dark just as residents were. 

“I want to be sure you know that this was not BRC’s decision, but rather that of the Department of Homeless Services,” Muzzy Rosenblatt wrote in an email to Niccolini. “I am as disappointed as you and many of your neighbors are.”

DHS spokesperson Arianna Fishman said the transfers were necessary in order to accommodate the seasonal increase in homeless men requiring shelter due to winter weather. Fishman declined to answer a follow up about whether the same strategy has been used during past winters. 

The transfers come in the midst of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Turning the Tide program, a revamp of the way the city handles homeless New Yorkers that prioritizes housing them in areas where they have roots and within reasonable distances of their support networks, such as schools, jobs, and doctors offices. 

Meanwhile, shelter residents were told that they can choose where they end up, but Williams says the vast tangled bureaucracy of the DHS assured that residents would end up wherever the city could fit them. 

“They don’t talk to us, the clients, they treat us like a number,” Williams said. “Whenever there’s a conflict or anything that happens, you don’t get to talk to them. It’s this governing body that’s in secret — but they do things that affect your life.”