By Sabina Mollot
Following the news last month that the 30th Street men’s shelter would soon be limiting the residents it accepts to those deemed employable and seeking job training, neighborhood residents have been left wondering why a similar standard can’t be shared with the nearby drop-in center for the shelter.
Called Mainchance, the drop-in center is located at 32nd Street and run by a nonprofit entity called the Grand Central Neighborhood Social Services. It is however, funded by the Department of Homeless Services.
One mom of two young children, Lauren Pohl, has been vocal in calling for change in the area like many of her fed up neighbors in Kips Bay, who’ve recently gotten more organized in their complaining about the local homeless men’s antics. They include frequent public fighting, drug use, urination, aggressive panhandling and lewdness. Pohl and another resident, Mort Greenberg, are co-chairs of active Facebook page, “Third and 33rd (and Beyond!)” where neighbors have been posting almost daily photos of various offenses.
“We’ve seen a huge uptick in homeless people in the area in the last year,” Pohl told Town & Village last week.
So much so, that one group member even recently created an app to help neighbors track vagrants who are seen as problematic in real time. It’s since been downloaded over 1,000 times.
Pohl said police officers at the 17th Precinct, which covers Kips Bay north of 30th Street, Murray Hill and East Midtown, have been “amazing” in their responses to resident complaints. However, she was baffled by the DHS’s handling of the community’s concerns on Mainchance, which was a topic of discussion at a recent, quietly held shelter community advisory board (CAB) meeting that she and a few others attended.
It was there that she learned that anyone can get a free meal at the center as long as the person shows identification.
“There is no formal intake process such as what 30th St. (shelter) does,” said Pohl. “Thus, any class 3 registered sex offender or violent criminal who has extensive recordswith the police are welcome to go to Mainchance and receive a meal and then spend the rest of the day in our community,” she recently fumed in an email. “PS 116 a local public pre-K and elementary school is a few blocks away as are over 40 other schools and playgrounds. It seems really flawed that homeless men who are not permitted at 30th Street shelter or other shelters are able to come to Mainchance and get free meals.”
She’s also learned the center has a 10-year lease which will be up for renewal and wondered if there was a chance, when it is time to renew, if it could be moved out of the area.
While she said she couldn’t be sure if they came directly from Mainchance, Pohl told Town & Village she has personally witnessed men conducting drug deals nearby, as well as masturbating publicly and even defecating nearby. And she’s not alone.
Another neighborhood mom, Yael Feder, told T&V she hadn’t realized how widespread the homeless issue had become in the neighborhood until recently, when she went on maternity leave. She said she sympathizes with the growing ranks of homeless men, noting that it’s only a small percentage who’ve managed to become a nuisance, including, from what she’s seen, by loitering and urinating outside Mainchance. She also said she would like to see the center move elsewhere.
“My concern is the location of Mainchance,” she said. “Given the demographics of Murray Hill and increasing number of young families, it would make more sense to relocate Mainchance to a less residential area to limit the interaction of local children with convicted criminals who are still being rehabilitated.”
If the place can’t be moved, she said she hoped they would run ID checks to check for sex offenders.
Those thoughts were echoed by a couple who’ve lived in Murray Hill for several years and have watched the neighborhood, once mainly known for its notorious post-college bar scene, turn into one more dominated by stroller-pushing thirty-somethings.
Rosa and Paul Rotundi, who have a two-year-old daughter with another one on the way, said they’ve also seen as the homeless population has grown and also gotten more aggressive.
“Things that used to be once a year, now it’s a daily thing,” said Rosa.
In light of the recent changes at the 30th Street shelter, Paul said he thought it was “outrageous that they almost pride themselves on not turning anyone away (at Mainchance).”
He added he hoped the mayor would focus more on the issue of homelessness, besides the building and preservation of affordable housing.
“The mayor’s plan is to help with affordable housing but you can’t sacrifice the short-term when you’re putting those things in place,” he said. “You have to help the homeless without neglecting the community.”
In a petition started by Kips Bay residents earlier in the summer, neighbors called for a number of changes relating to the shelter at Bellevue Hospital, which included moving Mainchance to another neighborhood. However, the DHS has not given any response indicating that this would happen.
Town & Village reached out to Grand Central Neighborhood Social Services Executive Director Brady Crain, who did not respond to a request for comment on the subject. The press secretary for the DHS, Nicole Cueto, also didn’t respond to questions about if there was a chance the standards for admittance could be changed for the free meals or if the center could be moved elsewhere.
Instead, she issued a written statement detailing what the program offers to homeless individuals as well as many others.
“For over ten years, Mainchance has been providing charitable services to needy New Yorkers to help them obtain the social services, support and day to day necessities, like food, they need to get by. Mainchance, like other soup kitchens throughout the city, serves a wide array of people that not only include the homeless population but LGBT youth runaways, the working poor, and other needy individuals as well.”