Soapbox: Support the homeless with Safe Haven

By Keith Powers

Two weeks ago, the city revealed its plan to open a “Safe Haven” transitional housing facility on East 17th Street. The plan is causing some consternation among those that live in the neighborhood, but the community should remain open-minded while the city presents its plan.

Many communities raise concerns about the siting of homelessness facilities. In Maspeth, Queens, the community fought against the siting of a shelter and defeated the proposal. None of these efforts solve the important and necessary issue of ending homelessness in the city. Here’s what does: a small facility for the chronic homeless operated by a high-quality provider that has social services included within the facility to permanently transition people out of homelessness.

There is often an immediate reaction of asking, “how can I stop this?” rather than “what are the facts and how can I help?”

The East 17th Street plan calls for 28 beds to help homeless individuals transition from living on the street to permanent housing. In comparison to the much larger 30th Street Men’s Shelter, this proposal addresses men and women that are at most risk for continued homelessness by providing temporary shelter and social services.

Here are a few suggested improvements to the plan. First, the shelter should prioritize individuals from the surrounding community, decreasing the neighborhood street population. Second, the city should welcome community input through the establishment of a community advisory board, similar to the 30th Street Men’s Shelter. Third, the city should devote additional resources to maintaining Stuyvesant Park, which is almost across the street from the proposed facility. Finally, the city should be open and honest in communicating with the community, particularly about any change to the size or population.

As we resist the cruel housing and human service policies reigning down from Washington, DC, let’s honor New York values here at home: every neighborhood – including ours – has a role to play in ensuring that all New Yorkers have a safe place, off the streets, to sleep at night. We’re at our best when we support each other to build stronger communities.

New York City has more than 61,000 homeless people. The latest data shows a 40 percent increase in street homelessness since 2016. This number will continue to rise unless the city comes together to provide services for those most in need. This “safe haven” proposal looks like one step in that direction.

Keith Powers is a City Council candidate and a resident of Peter Cooper Village.

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