Gravesend residents rally against planned homeless shelter

Gravesend Homeless Shelter Protest Mar. 16
Council Member Susan Zhuang and Assembly Member William Colton pictured with protesters ahead of the March 16 rally.
Photo courtesy of William Colton’s District Office

Gravesend residents and local politicians rallied again on Saturday in opposition to a proposed homeless shelter in the neighborhood, with hundreds of residents turning out to protest. 

Led by Assembly Member William Colton and Council Member Susan Zhuang, protestors flooded the street outside of 2501 86th St. during the rally to protest the opening of a homeless facility at the corner of 25th Avenue, proclaiming that the shelter will be a public safety issue that will impact local residents’ quality of life. 

“Help the Homeless by Creating Jobs Not Building Shelters,” and “Children’s Safety First! No Homeless Shelter,” some of the signs seen marching down 86th Street read. 

“This is the largest gathering I think the neighborhood has seen in many, many years,” Colton told Saturday’s crowd. “We are here to say in one clear voice to all our government officials – no more homeless shelters! Homeless shelters are not the solution. The solution is permanent affordable housing. The solution is services. Homeless shelters are an obstacle to that. They use millions and billions of dollars that could be used for the real solution.”

The facility, which is planned to be operated by Bronx-based VIP Community Services, is being developed by 86th Street NY LLC, and could house up to 150 single men experiencing homelessness, including those experiencing mental health challenges.

The City’s Department of Social Services anticipates that the shelter will open in the last quarter of 2024. 

The shelter is slated to provide on-site services ranging from case management, individual and group counseling, permanency planning and housing placement assistance, on-site medical, support groups, independent living and life skills workshops, and supports in finding and securing employment. VIP Community Services will provide mental health and behavioral health services and will facilitate connections to care in the community. 

Protesters flooded the intersection of 86th Street and 25th Avenue. Photo courtesy of William Colton’s District Office

Along with U.S. Rep. Nicole Malliotakis and Council Member Zhuang, Colton has been rallying locals to oppose the proposed shelter, contending that it is bad for both the neighborhood and the homeless people who would be housed there.

An online petition calling for the city to stop progressing with the plan and instead build permanent affordable housing for families and seniors has so far garnered over 28,000 signatures. Last month, Zhuang and Colton also launched a task force focused on stopping the homeless shelter from opening at the location.

“We don’t have enough affordable housing in the neighborhood,” Zhuang said Saturday. “There are not enough high schools in the neighborhood. There are so many things missing in our neighborhood and the only thing you give us is homeless shelters, which are human warehouses built with taxpayer money.”

Likewise, Malliotakis said the move by city officials “demonstrates a lack of leadership,” calling the proposed shelter “unsafe for the surrounding community.”

“When it comes to building more affordable, permanent housing units, New York City and State leaders have been all talk, no action. Instead of building permanent solutions to the housing crisis, the city has resorted to warehousing people in shelters that offer no transitional resources to get their lives back on track,” said Malliotakis.

Colton warned that opponents would continue the fight if the city does not backtrack on the homeless shelter plan: “We will come back in bigger numbers, and we’re going to start naming names and explaining the reasons why shelters keep getting built even though they don’t work.” 

The Assembly member previously led protests against a now scrapped homeless shelter on Bath Avenue in 2021 — which was set to be built by the same developer behind the new 86th Street shelter, Tejpal Sandhu of The Sandhu Group.

Sandhu purchased the site at 2501 86th St. in Feb. 2023 for $4.8 million, and filed permits to build a 32-room hotel on the site last October. The Sandhu Group did not respond to requests for comment.

According to the Department of Homeless Services’ daily census, nearly 90,000 people slept in New York City shelters on the night of Mar. 14. More than 14,000 of them were single adult men. There are currently no shelters of any kind in Brooklyn Community District 11, where the 86th Street shelter would be located. 

The City’s Department of Social Services said it is working to ensure that every community has the safety net resources to help their vulnerable neighbors as part of its equitable shelter siting approach, calling the planned shelter on 86th Street a “vital resource” to the community.

“This will be the first shelter in this community district offering New Yorkers experiencing homelessness the critical opportunity to receive quality care as they get back on their feet,” a DSS spokesperson said in a statement. “Working together with our not-for-profit provider-partner VIP, we will be providing robust wraparound supports as dedicated staff work closely with shelter residents to help them stabilize their lives and move into permanent housing.”

In response to the ongoing protests over the site, the DSS spokesperson said the city agency will continue to maintain open lines of communication with the community “as we work collaboratively to support our neighbors in need.”

The DSS first notified residents of the planned shelter back in November and said it remains committed to notifying communities at least 30 days ahead of the potential opening of new traditional shelter locations.

To address the safety concerns of local residents, VIP Community Services will reportedly be providing on-site security around-the-clock, promising a minimum of seven security staff per shift and one supervisor overseeing security staff per shift. A total of 74 security cameras will also be installed throughout the building and across the shelter grounds. 

If plans proceed, VIP Community Services will also launch a 24-hour open line for the community to provide feedback and to immediately address any concerns that may arise, according to the DSS.