Carroll Gardens residents: Don’t give us homeless shelter

Carroll Gardens residents: Don’t give us homeless shelter
Community Newspaper Group / Natalie O’Neill

A Bronx-based non-profit wants to open a 170-bed homeless shelter on a residential block of Carroll Gardens — but neighbors fear a cramped facility will encourage troubled folks to loiter nearby.

Aguila Incorporated plans to offer single adults housing in a five-story building on West Ninth and Court streets to “help less fortunate individuals find a better quality of life,” according to a letter the group submitted to Community Board 6.

But residents contend the proposal is unsafe and unfit for the family-centric neighborhood, partly because the shelter will likely allocate each dweller a space about the size of a large office cubicle.

Experts in the field say roughly one-third of the building — which was originally designed as a condo development — will likely go toward common areas, sparking fears among neighbors that cramped personal quarters could push shelter dwellers outside, and with them panhandling and drug use.

“It’s a little scary if they end up roaming the streets,” said neighbor and father James Dimoca. “I know this sounds selfish — but there are an awful lot of young families around here.”

Other residents and business owners, some of whom are circulating a petition to protest the plan, suspect the shelter will become a stain on the newly cleaned-up area, which is just steps from the Brooklyn–Queens Expressway on one side and hot new businesses such as the much-buzzed-about eatery Buttermilk Channel on the other.

“This end of Carroll Gardens has just recently started to improve with new shops and restaurants opening — [the shelter] negatively impacts this area’s ability to continue to improve,” neighbor Janet Zimmerman wrote on a petition.

Aguila’s chief executive officer Robert Hess — a former New York City Department of Homeless Services commissioner — didn’t return two calls seeking comment on Monday.

But homeless advocacy groups not tied to the project say the amount of planned per-person space — roughly 100 square feet per inhabitant not counting common areas — is livable, so long as Aguila uses smart spatial planning.

“If [residents are] not comfortable they’re going to leave at all times during day and night,” said Neil Donovan of the National Coalition for the Homeless. “But some of that can be relieved by the physical nature of the place.”

Donovan ran a 1,700-bed shelter in Boston with nearly the same amount of space reserved for each dweller as the Carroll Gardens plan — and it functioned fine, he said.

It helped that he made use of bunk beds, new walls, and curfews, which he claims helped eliminate potential loitering problems.

“You need a game plan,” Donovan said.

Councilman Brad Lander (D–Carroll Gardens) echoed that idea, saying the problem with Aguila’s is in the details — or lack thereof.

“[It] includes no plans for whether the shelter would have adequate space and services — or how it could work for its residents or its neighbors,” he said.

Reach reporter Natalie O'Neill at [email protected] or by calling her at (718) 260-4505.