By Sabina Mollot
The city is planning to open a new “Safe Haven” facility to house chronically homeless individuals in a Stuyvesant Square building that’s owned by Mount Sinai.
The building was previously used by Beth Israel as an HIV/AIDS hospice/residential treatment center. It is currently empty, located at 327 East 17th Street between First and Second Avenues. At one time, the site was a home rented by the Czech composer Antonin Dvorak, though it was later demolished.
Word of the proposal, which is aimed at housing 28 homeless people and helping them transition to regular housing, got out on Tuesday with an email from Community Board 6 to various community organizations.
According to the email, CB6 has plenty of questions about the plan, including why it’s coming to the area when there’s already an 850-bed shelter on East 30th Street and other, local smaller shelters, and concern over the location’s proximity to neighborhood schools. The email also noted there was no guarantee the homeless individuals would be people from the district.
Another concern was over a broken elevator in the building which the board was told the city would pay for. Rick Eggers, CB6’s chair, who sent the email, wondered why the city would do this since Mount Sinai is in the process of downsizing Beth Israel and is expected to eventually put the building on the market. How long the shelter’s lease would be for was also unclear but it may be three years.
“The Department of Homeless Services (DHS) says that a public hearing was held but neither the community board nor any of the elected officials involved were aware of such a hearing,” Eggers added.
He also said that the board was told the facility would be geared towards servicing those who have declined shelter services in the past and would be one of the smallest shelters in the city.
The target date for the opening is late August or fall and its operator would be BRC (Bowery Residents Committee), which runs another shelter in Chelsea.
BRC did not respond to a request for comment by Town & Village’s press time. Eggers, reached on Wednesday morning, said he was still trying to learn more about the situation and didn’t want to comment until then.
But Rosalee Islay, president of the Stuyvesant Park Neighborhood Association, said she was “appalled” at the proposal, adding that she dreaded the idea of the park going back to the bad old days when it was used as a homeless hangout and bathroom.
“We are going to oppose this,” Isaly said. “We have devoted money and thousands of volunteer hours in bringing the park to a new level of cleanliness and beauty. In addition there are many more families in our neighborhood with small children who need this park safe. There are schools on both sides of the park.”
Asked for more details about the shelter, a spokesperson for the Department of Homeless Services, Isaac McGinn, told Town & Village that fixing the city’s homeless crisis involves consistent efforts at getting people off the streets who are normally resistant to help from the city.
He also said this would be a “safe haven,” which is different from a shelter, despite the presence of overnight beds. DHS safe havens are “low-barrier” centers that only take referrals from street outreach teams and are aimed at getting residents to transition to regular housing. They tend to be on the smaller side.
At this location, the residents would be screened by BRC, although this would only be to determine if they are chronically homeless, not to determine if the individual has a criminal record.
“We need every community to come together to address the citywide challenge of homelessness, which requires a mix of different types of facilities across the five boroughs meant to serve homeless New Yorkers facing different challenges,” said McGinn. “Helping street homeless New Yorkers transition indoors requires persistent and compassionate outreach coupled with facilities geared towards clients who are often resistant to accepting services. Starting this fall, we will be utilizing this location as a small safe haven to help transition our homeless neighbors off the streets — such low-barrier programs with robust on-site services are often the first step towards bringing these individuals indoors more permanently.”
A spokesperson for Mount Sinai said the hospital network isn’t selling the building to BRC, just offering a short-term lease.
In a written statement, Mount Sinai said,
“Mount Sinai Health System applauds Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio for creating this innovative program to assist homeless New Yorkers in getting back on their feet. We look forward to working with the Governor and Mayor’s teams and the BRC to help bring this important program to reality.”