If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That is the sentiment that more than 60 UWS residents expressed about turning a women’s shelter into a shelter for single men.
On Sept. 24, the Health and Human Services Committee of Community Board 7 held a meeting, where residents expressed displeasure, anger and confusion that the DHS is springing this decision on the community without any type of input from them or the women that live in the shelter. A representative from DHS did not attend.
The shelter, located at 237 West 107th Street, was once marred by controversy, but is now an integral part of the community, said Committee Chair Sheldon Fine. According to Fine, the recent spike in homeless single men throughout the city has caused the need for this. Fine noted that the current shelter houses 120 women; the men's shelter would keep the same number of beds.
Isaac McGinn, a spokesman for the NYC Dept of Social Services, said it is anticipated that this facility will transition to providing services to single adult men next month. McGinn said that DHS will assist the women in finding alternative housing.
“Nobody wants to see families with children or single adults turned out onto the streets without a roof over their heads — and we stand by our legal and moral obligation to provide shelter every night to those who need it,” he said in a statement. “At this location, we are transitioning to providing shelter, services, and supports to single adult men ahead of the seasonal increase in the need for shelter for single adult men as winter approaches.”
Caught Off Guard
The consensus at the meeting was, why take these women out of the shelter and put in single men, who are often associated with crime.
Shanelle Emanuel is one of the 120 women who live in the shelter. She said she and the other women were caught off guard about the news. She explained they were not given notice or an explanation, so she hoped by attending the meeting she could get answers or hear from DHS. She got neither.
Emanuel explained when she got first got to the shelter she was nervous and afraid, but today she is focused, working and in school. She credits the shelter with helping her.
“To just relocate somebody is like you already have a sense of I’m homeless,” she said. “Then you just take that away when you finally feel at home. I came here to get answers and it’s unfortunate that I don’t even know why I have to move.”
"We Are Ready for a Fight"
Kurt Pohmer a member of the West 107th Street Block Association, was among the many who do not want the shelter to change. Pohmer was on the community action board that helped establish the current shelter.
“I’ve been involved in helping the less fortunate for more than 30 years,” he said. “The relationship with the shelter has been good for the entire neighborhood. If the DHS wants a fight, we are ready for a fight.”
Community members Mark Weinflash and Connie Sanchez also strongly oppose the transition into a men’s shelter.
“DHS is not respecting the community,” Weinflash said. “It makes us think they’re hiding something. Why are they not here?”
Sanchez stressed that people are ready to contest this new shelter and won’t back down.
“We’re going to fight for it,” she exclaimed. “They [DHS] don’t know who they’re fighting.”
The Health and Human Services Committee of CB7 and other members of CB7 did not support the new men’s shelter at all.
Mark Diller, a member of the community board, said many people want a homeless shelter, just not in their neighborhood. However, the women’s shelter has become an important part of this neighborhood and it needs to remain, he said.
“The nature of this enterprise, the nature of this work from the DHS is to treat the homeless population as exchange and the community around it as commodities as inventory, as pure numbers. The way to get around NIMBY [not in my backyard] is to create community.”
The board unanimously approved a resolution that opposes the shelter and requested that DHS put its plan on hold and meet with the community. The entire board will vote on a resolution at its full community board meeting Oct.2.
"I came here to get answers and it’s unfortunate that I don’t even know why I have to move.” Shanelle Emanuel, women's shelter resident