By Sabina Mollot
Neighbors of the 30th Street men’s shelter, who for years have complained about homeless men aggressively panhandling, using the corner pay phones as toilets and just generally being nuisances, may soon see some relief.
The Department of Homeless Services, which runs the shelter that’s located at Bellevue Hospital, is planning to turn it into a shelter for men who are employed or considered employable and seeking job training.
Ken Ryan, the property manager of 350 East 30th Street, a mixed rental and condo building across the street from the shelter, said he was told this at a recent private meeting he had with DHS Deputy Commissioner of Adult Services Jody Rudin.
“That’s promising,” Ryan told Town & Village. “I am all for a homeless men’s shelter where men have jobs, or are being trained for jobs and live in the shelter. I am not for bums who get a bed and food and do nothing but harass the people in the neighborhood.”
Town & Village reached out to the DHS and press secretary Nicole Cueto confirmed the plan, which the department hopes to implement by the end of the calendar year. The shift in services won’t change the amount of men the shelter currently serves — around 850 — and while the unemployable residents would be sent elsewhere, the intake center and assessment processes would remain in place.
The men deemed employable would be connected to the city’s Human Resources Administration’s Back to Work Program, which include citywide contracts with community based employment and training organizations to provide training, job placement services and vocational training.
In an email, Cueto said, “The city is legally and morally obligated to provide shelter to anyone who requests it. The city ensures those listed on the sex offender registry are sheltered at sites that meet New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) guidelines. We are working with all providers to transfer those residents to sites that are compliant, as well as ensuring providers have the necessary resources to serve high-risk populations – including more funding and personnel for security, mental health and social services.”
She didn’t respond to a question about where the men who would be transferred would be heading.
Meanwhile, for those who live across the street and other nearby buildings, the only thing to do is wait, as well as to continue to push for a response to their quality of life and safety concerns.
In recent months, some residents have taken to photographing men who are loitering or urinating outside properties or behaving aggressively. Earlier this week, one Kips Bay resident shared a photo on Facebook of a man masturbating outside his building. The photo was later shared on an email list to DHS officials and it would seem the constant reminders from neighbors of their situation does seem to have had some effect.
Mauro Pennacchia, a longtime neighborhood resident, last week raged in an email to neighbors that a shelter resident who’d once received a summons for approaching his son at a playground, even calling him by his name, was still living in the shelter three years later and still talking to kids. Then, on Monday, he emailed T&V to say the city had finally agreed to send him to another shelter in another borough. We were unable to reach him for further comment, but Cueto confirmed the man was being sent elsewhere.
When asked what took so long, Cueto said, “We take this situation very seriously. As soon as we were notified, we immediately began to take action transferring this client and working with the community and the authorities.”
The shelter has been facing heightened scrutiny since April when a resident was arrested for the rape of a woman at a local bar. Police at the time said they would be concentrating more on the shelter area. These days, there is a more regular presence of a DHS patrol vehicle on the shelter’s block. However, Ryan said this hasn’t meant there are any fewer homeless men loitering outside his property and other nearby buildings.
In one example, he still runs into the same homeless man every day, a usually shirtless individual who hangs out in front of a Rite Aid store and “arggghhhs,” pirate-like, at people passing by. Either that or, “he’s always drunk, lying out on the ground,” said Ryan.
On Monday morning, shortly before his interview with Town & Village, he spotted two men sitting and eating on the wall on the border of his building’s garage and another building. When Ryan pointed out that there was a no trespassing sign, one of the men told him to “Get the f— out of here.”
Ryan then got his camera and started taking the men’s picture. That’s when one of the men, who yelled, “You can’t take my picture,” aggressively started walking towards him. Normally, said Ryan, he wouldn’t get into confrontations with the men but he wanted to have evidence to show the patrol officers. Also that day, he saw one of the shelter’s younger residents, who appeared to be in his 20s, “smoking a joint with another buddy in our driveway. If I’m seeing the same people, they’re (the DHS) not doing anything.”
The corner phone booths, which are supposed to be eventually replaced with WiFi hubs, are also still there.
“I feel like going there and tearing them out,” said Ryan.
As a result of the current problems, he added, fewer people are signing leases in his building, and he’s hoping to pursue a case to get the building’s taxes lowered.
“If I’m going to be living in a slum, I should be paying slum taxes,” he said.
Antonio Rodriguez, the superintendent and resident manager at 350, added that recently, when a man was peeing in the driveway, Rodriguez confronted the man. In response, the man told him, “Do something about it.” So Rodriguez did, heading across the street. At the shelter, he was told someone would be there right away. But after waiting 15 minutes, Rodriguez said he went back and told them, “The guy’s not going to be there,’ and of course he was gone.”
Calling 911 hasn’t helped either. “I called 911 and they didn’t understand my accent,” said Rodriguez, who was born in Cuba. He’d recently called about a man sitting on a neighboring property’s stoop. “I know he doesn’t belong there.” He added, “It’s been very frustrating. The city is going down.”
But Cueto denied that the department hasn’t actively been working with the community to rein in the shelter residents, even pointing out the recent meeting with Rudin and the management at 350 East 30th Street.
In an email, Cueto detailed a list of steps the department has taken to address community concerns.
• Doing joint patrols of the area with the 13th Precinct
• Extending security rounds to 10 p.m.
• Working with local elected officials to get funding for additional lighting to be placed in the neighborhood and installing lighting packs directly on the shelter building
• Working with the district attorney to have 350 East 30th Street put into the D.A.’s “Trespassing Affidavit Program,” which permits police to conduct vertical patrols
• Advocating for neighborhood pay phones to be removed
• And the plan to transfer anyone who isn’t employable.
Homelessness has also been a hot topic this summer in other parts of the city and a series of articles in the New York Post have highlighted the issue.
This week, after the paper reported on an increased homeless presence in Tompkins Square Park, the NYPD erected a Skywatch surveillance tower. It’s since been removed, though, following neighbor complaints.
On Monday, when asked by reporters about what the city was doing about homelessness, Mayor Bill de Blasio stressed that there was a difference between aggressive or violent vagrants and those who panhandle and hang out in parks peacefully.
“There is a thin line – the question of what constitutes the individual’s right, for example, to sit on that park bench or beg in front of that store,” said the mayor. “There’s been tremendous consistency that it’s not the place of any local government to tell people they can’t do it – like any other freedom of speech or assembly.”
He added that, “Anyone who’s aggressive, anyone of course who’s violent – there, I think we can do a lot more within the law – and that starts with recognizing that mental health is the single biggest challenge when it comes to anyone who’s aggressive or violent. That’s rarely a person who is mentally well – let’s be clear. Well, that’s what we’re about to roll out – some very different approaches that we think will have a much bigger impact.”
De Blasio said the city’s First Lady Chirlane McCray would be the one to roll out a plan that would “fundamentally reshape how we approach mental health issues in this city.”