A new homeless shelter has opened at 400 McGuiness Boulevard in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn in the face of strong opposition from residents and businesses in the area. The 200-bed facility is associated with the Bowery Residents’ Committee, and is meant as a temporary shelter for men before they move on to other housing solutions, although there will be 20 beds set aside for the truly homeless of Greenpoint.
Last June neighbors went into full-protest mode when they formed a corporation and hired a lawyer to fight the shelter’s opening. In a letter requesting financial support the coalition stated the following:
"We have formed a corporation…in order to organize and fight against the 200-bed men's homeless shelter, which threatens to ruin our current lifestyle and the safety and quality of the neighborhood."
Nevertheless the shelter has opened, to the relief, and even joy of some men with few choices left.
"It's a godsend," said Bob, 57, one of the first men to move in to the shelter, who preferred to withhold his last name. "The neighborhood's great … the space is clean, light, and airy."
Bob’s story flies in the face of what many people imagine a homeless person is like. Last June Bob suffered a heart attack, then lost his job in finance, and finally lost his home in Forest Hills. He said he never dreamed he would ever need a homeless shelter to keep him off the streets.
"Most people have preconceived notions about shelters, and I was one of them," said Bob. "But guys here want to get jobs, and plenty guys here are working. But you can't get an apartment on $7 an hour."
Local residents were disappointed that they were not informed of the imminent opening of the shelter. Local assembly member Lincoln Restler attended a closed meeting on Tuesday at the center.
"I'm disappointed that the Department of Homeless Services opened prior to community consultation," Restler said.
The meeting on Tuesday was not open to the public, but some residents arrived anyway believing they would be allowed to attend what they thought was an informational meeting about the shelter open to all.
“I was pretty irate,” said Mike Hoffman, a community activist who was permitted to attend the meeting, while many of his friends were not.
A Department of Homeless Services spokeswoman countered by saying that the agency had reached out to community board members and local officials before the shelter opened. She added that residents are welcome to join the Community Advisory Committee for the shelter.
“The BRC Assessment Center is a state-of-the-art facility, providing security, specialized social services and client transportation, in addition to meeting shelter needs," the spokeswoman said. "In a recent community advisory meeting, all raised concerns were addressed and BRC staff made themselves available to advisory board members around the clock.”
The shelter has a shuttle service for the residents, and enforces a strict 10pm curfew, according to the spokeswoman.
Community activist Mike Hoffman added that the shelter “is a nice place. We’ll have to wait and see what happens.”