UWS Shelter Battle Escalates

Elected officials join angry residents and Community Board 7 members to protest a hasty decision by the city Department of Human Services

Oct 04 2019 | 04:00 PM

Community Board 7 and neighborhood activists are not backing down from a fight. The women’s shelter at 237 West 107th Street is a part of their community and they want it to stay.

Without input from the community or elected officials, the Department of Human Services wants to displace the 120 women who live in the shelter. The women have become a part of the community, have jobs and go to school.

But a significant increase in the number of homeless men prompted DHS to decide to transition the facility from a shelter for women to one for men.

Last Wednesday, the full board of CB 7 unanimously passed a resolution requesting DHS to keep the shelter as is, put its plan on hold and meet with the community. There was no DHS representative at the meeting.

“Ironically most neighborhoods fight to keep out a shelter, but we’re fighting to keep a shelter here,” said Kurt Pohmer a member of the West 107th Street Block Association.

Pohmer, a staunch supporter of the women’s shelter, did not stay at the meeting for long, as he left to join a demonstration being held in front of the shelter.

Out of the Blue

The DHS decision to make the change seemed to happen overnight, taking everyone by surprise. Elected officials were informed of the plan on September 16. The Health and Human Services Committee for CB 7 held a meeting Sept. 24, where more than 60 people, including current shelter residents, showed up, all opposing the men’s shelter.

Pohmer said the women were notified on September 27 that they would be evicted in 48 hours. The block association quickly stepped in and stopped that. But as of the October 2 meeting, a few women had already been relocated.

“They are discriminating against women,” Pohmer said. “They aren’t working with the community.”

Elected Officials Join the Fight

Elected officials have also shown their support for the women’s shelter. On Oct.2, Council Member Mark Levine, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Congressman Jerrold Nadler, Assemblyman Daniel O’ Donnell and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams sent a letter to DHS opposing the men’s shelter.

“As the elected representatives of the neighbors and residents of 237 West 107th street, we have a primary responsibility to advocate for our constituents,” they wrote. “Many of the women who currently reside in the shelter have jobs (some work for the city of NY) and all are members of our community. We want them to remain here.

“Because there have been no formal communication, presentation at the community board or for community residents, rumors abound. We are only able to determine your agency’s proposed plans for the women and the building through individual phone calls to members of your staff. This is in itself a disservice to all who are actively engaged in our communities.”

Levine attended last week’s meeting in person and expressed his frustrations with DHS. The women have roots in the community, he said, and it’s unacceptable for the city agency to completely disrupt their lives “There’s no public policy or justification for that,” said Levine. “This fight is a long way from over."

"They're Playing Games"

CB7 Health and Human Services Committee members Sheldon Fine and Katie Rosman are flat out livid about the situation. “We want the DHS to put their plan on hold,” said Fine, the chair of the committee. “They’re playing games”

Rosman echoed Fine’s sentiments. “I have seen firsthand the transformative impact that providing someone a safe and stable roof over their heads, how that can transform a life,” she said. “Our issue is the way that [DHS] is going about achieving [its] goals. We feel it’s completely inhumane, it is cruel, it is unacceptable, to suddenly uproot these women with absolutely no community input.”

"This fight is a long way from over." Council Member Mark Levine