By Sabina Mollot
Gilman Hall, the former residence for residents of Mount Sinai Beth Israel that was sold last year to a California developer, is being eyed as a site of a future shelter.
Word that the city was mulling using the now vacant property to temporarily house women and children reached Community Board Six last Thursday.
Asked about this, Molly Hollister, CB6 chair, and Carin van der Donk, chair of CB6’s Housing, Homeless, and Human Rights Committee issued the following statement to Town & Village:
“We have been notified by our elected officials that Gilman Hall at East 17th Street and 1st Avenue is currently being assessed as a possible shelter or temporary housing facility for women and children by the New York City Department of Homeless Services. There is no immediate timeline for a final decision for the site.
“There are currently 185 units in this vacant building, located at 353 East 17th Street. Manhattan Community Board Six has no position on the project at this time but requests that the process for assessing the site be done holistically and with community input.
“Our district’s infrastructure is already overburdened with over-capacity public schools and more than our fair share of homeless shelters, as we are home to the 30th Street Men’s Shelter (which is the city’s largest homeless shelter), Samaritan Village, New Providence Women’s Shelter and the Hand Up Safe Haven.
“We are waiting to hear details before we make any further comments.”
The Department of Homeless Services, however, said there is no plan for the site at this time.
In an emailed statement, DHS spokesperson Isaac McGinn said, “Every neighborhood across New York City has a part to play in addressing this citywide challenge and we remain committed to open engagement with all communities across the five boroughs as we transform a shelter system decades in the making.
“We provide notification to communities when a viable proposal from a not-for-profit service provider has been received and fully evaluated. We currently have no proposal for this site. We will promptly notify the community board and elected officials if this changes.”
Additionally, a spokesperson for Gilman Hall’s owner, CIM Group, said the landlord isn’t working on any such arrangement.
The spokesperson, Bill Mendel, said, “CIM is not currently contemplating the use of Gilman Hill as a possible shelter or facility for the homeless.”
Along with Gilman Hall, CIM Group also owns the adjoining property to Gilman on First Avenue, four, small connected buildings that were recently razed. That property is slated to become an eleven-story residential building with ground floor retail. CIM has suggested the 24-story Gilman Hall could become a dorm.
The city’s consideration of the building is obviously no guarantee a lease will be signed, but if the property were to be used as a shelter, it would be the third one to open in the Stuyvesant Square/Stuyvesant Town area lately. Another former Beth Israel property that had been used as an AIDS hospice, and at one time was the home of composer Antonin Dvorak, was repurposed as a 28-bed safe haven shelter in April. That shelter is located on East 17th Street between First and Second Avenues. Additionally, Hotel 17 on East 17th Street recently reinvented itself as a longterm stay residence for people who require emergency housing, usually because of a fire or unsafe building conditions.
As for the possibility of a new shelter, Assembly Member Harvey Epstein said he was reserving any judgment until the city releases an official plan that can be evaluated.
On concerns of oversaturation of homeless service facilities in the area, Epstein said, “I know that’s a legitimate issue but at the same time we need transitional housing for people. We have a homeless crisis in New York City. I never want people to have to live in homeless shelters. If possible you want to put them in decent affordable housing, but until we have a city that can provide that, we need places for people to be.”
Epstein added, “I don’t want it to be oversaturated in one area — no one should be disproportionately affected — but we must do our part to help the homeless. And I worry that when you hear about it (a possible new shelter) it stokes fears and we don’t want these families to feel unwanted. It’s not their fault. The city has an affordability problem. We should be a warm and welcoming community to all New Yorkers.”