No shelter: Park Slopers blast plan to open new homeless shelters on Fourth Avenue

No shelter: Park Slopers blast plan to open new homeless shelters on Fourth Avenue
Photo by Colin Mixson

A city scheme to house homeless families within a pair of Fourth Avenue residential developments was met with outrage during a public meeting at Seventh Avenue’s John Jay Educational Campus on May 1, where locals shouted, heckled, and booed at presenters from the Department of Homeless Services and its chosen operator for the upcoming refuge.

And it’s not because they don’t like homeless people — they’re just not willing to pay developers to house them, according to one Park Slope man.

“You want to pit the working class people of this city against the homeless,” said Bo Samajopoulos. “This is not about the homeless people — Brand Lander and [Mayor] Bill de Blasio are bailing out developers.”

Park Slope Councilman Brad Lander organized the meeting to discuss the city’s plan to install shelters in buildings at 535 and 555 Fourth Ave. slated to open this fall. The properties were originally built as market-rate rentals, before officials at the Department of Homeless Services worked out a deal with developers to house destitute families there.

The neighboring shelters will be run by nonprofit shelter operator Win and will feature a combined 253 units, along with childcare services and programs designed to help get down-and-out New Yorkers back on their feet and into permanent housing.

Both buildings will feature 24-hour security and surveillance, and will be offered exclusively to families, with the majority of residents expected to be women and children, according to Jackie Bray, first deputy commissioner at the Department of Homeless Services.

At the meeting, questions about the shelters’ effect on property values were quick to arise, with one Park Slope resident asking why the refuges couldn’t be sited in a less gentrified area.

“Why are the shelters being taken out of areas now marked for gentrification, like Sunset Park, and moved into areas that have already been gentrified,” asked Father Joe DeVincenzo.

Another woman asked about what effect the shelter’s pint-sized residents would have on local schools, claiming nearby PS 124 is already near capacity.

Bray, Lander, and former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who now serves as Win’s chief executive officer, struggled to address concerns expressed by residents as their audience at the packed high school auditorium shouted over them, and Quinn in particular was routinely drowned out by a chorus of boos.

The Homeless Services official claimed there’s “zero research” showing shelters reduce property values, and said the city bases its decision to site a shelter in a community based on the number of existing shelters there and its current population of homeless residents.

Lander addressed concerns about school overcrowding, saying he would work with city agencies and local school leaders to ensure there was space for the kids, but noted that many shelter kids tend to stick with whatever schools they’re already attending.

Beyond that, the properties were always planned for residential use, and would have likely attracted more students to local schools had they opened as market-rate rentals, although nobody made an issue of it until the shelters were announced, according to Lander.

“Both those buildings have been in construction for quite a while, and no one had brought any concerns about the capacity of the schools,” he said.

One Park Sloper scorned his neighbors, describing them as faux liberals for their harsh criticism of the city’s shelter plan.

“I must say to my neighbors who claim to be progressive, and post signs on their windows supporting Syrian refugees, if you’re against homeless people coming into our neighborhood, your against homeless people,” said Joel Berg.

Many locals did express support for the shelter, including one man who asked what community members could do to support shelter residents.

Quinn suggested volunteering during Win events for kids, including the shelter operator’s summer-camp program, in addition to wrapping free gifts for kids come Christmas time.

The audience would eventually boo her before she could finish describing opportunities to help the shelter residents.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.
Father Joe DeVincenzo wanted to know how the shelters would affect local property values.
Photo by Colin Mixson