New homeless shelter slated for Hoyt Street next year

1 hoyt street homeless shelter
1 Hoyt Street, former home of A.I. Namm & Son Department Store, is the future home of a single men’s homeless shelter.

A new homeless shelter is slated to open in Downtown Brooklyn early next year, bringing 160 beds for single adult men to the facility at 1 Hoyt St.

Representatives from the city’s Department of Social Services emphasized the need for the shelter, which will be one of at least three opening in North Brooklyn in the next year as the department looks to build smaller, more flexible facilities. 

“When we think about the shelter system, it has been haphazard, right, dating back 40 years, it’s just been really spread out all over the city with no real way of management,” said DHS administrator Joslyn Carter. “We’ve been working to transform this haphazard shelter system, and really shrink our footprint, and open up really good, high-quality shelters, one of which is this one at One Hoyt Street.”

Carter made his plea with neighbors at a meeting of local Community Board 2 on Nov. 8, along with the African-American Planning Commission Inc., the nonprofit that will be operating the shelter. 

The move comes as term-limited Mayor Bill de Blasio looks to make his final marks on the issue of homelessness, which kicked into high gear in 2017 with the “Turning the Tide” initiative, albeit with mixed results. 

Decades of stagnant wages and rising rents, coupled with widely-criticized policy choices by former mayors Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg resulted in record-high shelter populations at the start of de Blasio’s term. Many people where sheltered in “cluster sites,” privately-owned apartments rented by the city, usually at very high costs, or in commercial hotels. While the population of people staying in shelters each night has remained high through his administration — averaging just under 60,000 — that number has decreased since the start of 2021, according to Coalition for the Homeless.

NYC mayor bill de blasio
Mayor Bill de Blasio has spearheaded efforts to reduce homelessness in New York City with the Turning the Tide Initiative. NYC Office of the Mayor.

As of late September, the administration had closed nearly 300 shelters that were not up to standard and had reduced the number of cluster sites by about 95 percent, a spokesperson told Brooklyn Paper at the time, either by converting them to permanent housing or closing them.

The Hoyt Street shelter will be a “general population” shelter for single adult men, said Erin Drinkwater, deputy commissioner at DSS, not one specialized for people with substance abuse or mental health issues.

“These are for individuals who might be experiencing homelessness because of the difference between the wages that they are earning and the rent that they are paying,” she said. “They might have some social services needs that, while they are in shelter, will be addressed.”

AACPI, who will be operating the shelter, currently run two domestic violence shelters — one in Brooklyn and one in the Bronx — and seven hotel-based shelters throughout the city, said CEO Matthew Okebiyi. In partnership with Breaking Ground, a nonprofit who will be running a new shelter in Greenpoint come 2022, AACPI also manages a supportive housing complex in Brownsville, and recently signed a contract to open a shelter in the northwest Bronx.

“The shelter on Hoyt Street that we’re proposing to operate is going to be somewhat similar to what we currently do,” he said during the CB2 meeting. “It’s going to have case management services, housing placement services, job search assistance, vocational services, substance abuse referral services, clinical staff, linkages, security.”

At least four security officers will be working during each shift, according to a document provided by DHS, with at least two at the door of the facility. Security will be on-site 24/7, and more than 40 cameras will be installed in and around the shelter. Okebiyi said AACPI will be partnering with the 84th Precinct for additional security, and, once the shelter is operational, an all-hours hotline will be provided for neighbors who have concerns.

AACPI was at the center of a city investigation earlier this year, a New York Times report found, because Okebiyi had been employing his brother, Raymond, as chief financial officer, and his sister-in-law sat on the board of directors. According to the Times, Okebiyi was instructed to fire his brother and restructure, though it is unclear whether he has done so — Raymond is still listed on the organization’s website as CFO. Okebiyi did not reply to a request for comment.

The shelter will have a 10 pm curfew, Drinkwater said, though residents with jobs who work late will be able to get special permission to return after that time. Shortly after he took over the role in 2016, DHS Commissioner Steven Banks clarified that people living in shelters are not required to leave the shelter during the day — staff may ask them to leave their units temporarily for cleaning or turnover, but not to exit the shelter altogether, a DHS spokesperson told Brooklyn Paper.

Staying on-site during the day allows people to use and access the services the shelter will provide, Drinkwater said.

Moving forward, DHS will form a Community Advisory Board of neighbors and local stakeholders to hold regular meetings with DHS and shelter staff.

More than 150 people joined the meeting to learn about their shelter and voice their support or concerns, including councilmember-elect Lincoln Restler and Assemblymember Jo Ann Simon.

Though he has yet to take office, Restler said some Downtown Brooklyn residents felt communications between DHS and the community as they planned the shelter and agreed on a contract were lacking, and that some had a “challenging experience,” when the city temporarily moved residents out of congregate shelters and into hotels, including the Hotel Indigo on Duffield Street, during the height of the pandemic.

Brooklyn Way Hotel on Fourth Avenue between 25th and 26th streets was one of the hotels repurposed to a homeless shelter amid the pandemic.Photo by Jessica Parks

He also emphasized the fact that DHS has full control over where shelters are placed, and do not need approval from elected officials or the community board.

“The Department of Homeless Services has a hard job,” he said. “It’s not an easy task to find housing for tens of thousands of New Yorkers who have no place to do, and if we sought the approval of every neighborhood and community than we wouldn’t have any shelters at all. While this process was not a good one, and I know we can do better going forward, this is how it works.”

According to DHS, priority will be given to men “with roots in Brooklyn,” especially CB2, allowing them to stay closer to jobs and support systems, but it will be open to men from all five boroughs. Single adult men have to apply for shelter on 30th Street in Manhattan, and, if they qualify, can be placed wherever a bed is available. 

The shelter’s “fair share” assessment will be released prior to the shelter opening its doors, Drinkwater said, which will lay out the decision to site the shelter at 1 Hoyt Street in more detail. As of 2019, CB2 was home to 635 people staying in shelters — 1.1 percent of the city’s total shelter population at the time.

Correction Nov. 16, 12:10pm: A previous version of this story misstated when the policy that clarified that people living in homeless shelters do not have to leave the premises during the day was implemented. DHS Commissioner Steven Banks made the change shortly after he was appointed to the position, not during the pandemic.