Eight months in, Kensington residents say new homeless shelter not so bad after all

Officials: Temporary homeless shelter for families may not stay that way
Photo by Arthur De Gaeta

It is no animal house.

The abrupt arrival of a Kensington homeless women and children’s shelter across from a local elementary school late last year sparked protests and heated community meetings, but eight months later, locals say it hasn’t brought the crime and havoc that many predicted. One neighbor said he was bummed to have lost the women’s college dorm that was on the site before, but the new refuge is still a welcome addition to the neighborhood.

“If had I had to pick between the shelter or the college girls, I’d go back to the college girls,” said Ali Beths, who operates a deli near the shelter, adding that he used to party with the co-eds. “But it brings business and from my experience, it’s only been positive.”

The city’s sudden announcement in November that it was opening the 65-unit shelter — across from PS 230 on McDonald Avenue between Albemarle Road and Church Avenue — divided the neighborhood.

Some residents responded by organizing charity drives and donating clothes to support their new neighbors in need, while others picketed the site, railing against the complete lack of community consultation and handing out fliers forecasting crime and drugs.

“Needless to say a homeless center carries the risk of drugs, sexual predatory activities and other crimes that endanger the lives of innocent people,” one notice read.

But a recent survey among area residents revealed that not much has changed after eight months living beside the city-run shelter and the families that rely on its services.

“It’s been fine. I haven’t seen anything negative,” said local Eliza Gollan. “Nobody on the corner, nothing weird happening. Nothing really changed.”

Many haven’t given the shelter a second thought since its announcement, despite walking past the refuge on a daily basis.

“We knew it was coming, but we haven’t noticed it,” said Carolina Kowallsky, a 20-year Tehama Street resident, who frequently shops along McDonald Avenue.

Beths said he believes some locals were mostly worried the facility would be a drag on a neighborhood that was otherwise on the up.

“This neighborhood was changing for the positive,” the deli guy said. “I came here 10 years ago and this neighborhood was not as good as it is now. It’s become like Park Slope in a way, and I’ve heard customers say, ‘This is a step back for the neighborhood.’ ”

That’s not to say everyone is a fan — one woman disparaged the residents and said it was a blight on the area.

“The people are very nasty, dirty,” said long-time local Bella Kurt. “They hang out on the corner. We never had anything like that in our neighborhood.”

Police have filed several reports from the shelter since it opened, including six instances of harassment, three assaults, one allegation of child abuse, and report of criminal contempt — likely for an order of protection violation — and one instance of petite larceny, according to a police spokesman.

There are only a few quality of life complaints registered to the property since the first shelter residents moved in, and the city’s 311 database records nine complaints related to noise and unsanitary conditions on the sidewalk.

But many neighbors say the impact on the area had been so minimal, they didn’t even know it was there.

“I walked by there and saw people standing outside, and I wondered,” said local Linda Lang, who lives three blocks away, upon learning about the shelter for the first time. “Now that I know, I may volunteer.”

Camba, the organization that runs the shelter, declined to comment.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.
A neighborhood divided: When it opened, some Kensingtonians protested (above), while others (below) welcomed it with open arms.
Photo by Arthur De Gaeta