Greenpoint residents blast church for opening homeless shelter

Greenpoint residents blast church for opening homeless shelter
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

A new homeless shelter is making a mess of Greenpoint, claim a handful of angry residents wary of their new neighbors and upset with the church that’s offering destitute men a place to spend the night.

Frustrated neighbors of Milton Street’s Greenpoint Reformed Church claim they are now dealing with late-night lewd comments and sidewalk land mines of urine, feces, and vomit due to the 10-bed shelter, which opened quietly in November.

“I can take care of myself, but there are young girls around here,” said Don Stella, who lives a few doors down from the church. “There are catcalls. Someone defecated outside of the church.”

Part of the outrage is due to the fact that Greenpoint dwellers didn’t know about the shelter, which is operated by the city and open nightly from 9 pm to 6 am, until it debuted in their community.

“There’s no good neighbor courtesy,” said Greenpoint resident Teresa Toro. “We feel like our good will is being taken for granted.”

Pastor Ann Kansfield said she didn’t approach her neighbors first to inform them about the facility because the deal happened quickly after the Church of the Ascension, which had been planning to open the shelter in its Kent Street building, suddenly backed out in November.

“By the time we were approached, winter was settling in and we thought it would be better for people to not die,” said Kansfield, who added that the church is simply following its mission of helping those in need by housing the homeless.

But it’s not loving thy neighbors, claim critics who accuse the house of worship of hosting the shelter solely to get cash from the city.

Kansfield says her church will only receive $12,000 annually in the arrangement, part of which will go to her $24,000 salary. The rest of the city’s $100,000 shelter budget will go to building upkeep, shelter employees’ salaries, and utilities, she said.

Since its debut on Nov. 19, 10 homeless individuals who frequently stayed outdoors in Greenpoint have taken shelter in the refuge, according to the Department of Homeless Services.

“Men who may have slept in parks or on benches are putting their heads down on beds, and that is always the end goal for us,” said agency spokeswoman Heather Janik.

Workers with Common Grounds, a group tasked by the city to run the shelter, make sure that no one loiters outside the church, Janik said.

But shelter opponents say the street has taken a turn for the worse ever since the Greenpoint Reformed Church began running a soup kitchen and food pantry several years ago.

“The pantry line goes down the block. One day, I tried to walk into my house and some guy pushed me and said ‘Get in f—— line,’ ” said Stella. “I’m not against the homeless having someplace to go, but not like this.”

Kansfield said she was reluctant to attribute all of the bad behavior on Milton Street to the men in the shelter, and encouraged neighbors to call the police if they encounter problems.

And some Greenpoint residents are big supporters of the shelter, saying it is society’s responsibility to assist those who need it most.

“A shelter is needed in all New York City neighborhoods,” said Brett White, who lives on Manhattan Avenue. “I want homeless people to be taken care of. Maybe there will be an increase in panhandling, but is that really a big deal?”

This isn’t the first time a Greenpoint homeless shelter has taken heat: neighbors battled to stop a much-larger 200-bed shelter that opened on McGuinness Boulevard last summer.

Reach reporter Danielle Furfaro at dfurfaro@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-2511. Follow her at twitter.com/DanielleFurfaro.