Opposition to local shelters further worsens the plight of vulnerable families

Finding accommodations for everyone (photo: Emil Cohen / City Council)

On October 29, the New York City Department of Social Services sent a letter to Brooklyn Community Board 11 advising of the construction of a homeless shelter in Bensonhurst. The facility would serve 75 families with children, with priority given to those “who have roots in this community and this neighborhood of Brooklyn more broadly.”

Brooklyn CB11 and neighboring CB10 encompass Bensonhurst, Bath Beach, Dyker Heights and Bay Ridge. These community neighborhoods are the only two in the borough not to have a single accommodation bed, despite on average nearly 300 people in the shelter system at one time whose last permanent address was in these districts.

The city’s current plan to create community shelters in all 59 community districts is logical, compassionate, and promises the greatest potential in helping people return to stable housing. For decades, most shelters have been clustered in socio-economically disadvantaged areas where it was cheaper to build and operate. Not only has this allowed some neighborhoods to avoid doing their fair share to address a problem that exists in their own communities, it has serious negative consequences for those experiencing homelessness, especially families.

Federal statute guarantees students living in a homeless shelter the right to remain in the school they attended before becoming homeless, which is invaluable for children whose living situation is unstable. Students living in homeless shelters missed almost one in four days of school on average this past winter and spring and had a about 10% lower attendance rate than students with permanent accommodation. Families experiencing homelessness in communities without shelter often have to choose between entering a shelter that is excessively far from their school or remaining homeless in order to be close to their school.

Assembly member William Colton, whose district office is across from the site of the planned family shelter in Bensonhurst, posted A press release on its assembly webpage on Nov. 1, saying it “alerts the community that the city is considering building another homeless shelter at 137 Kings Highway in Brooklyn”. During the November 9 Monthly meeting CB11Colton announced the planned shelter, saying, “It also has some issues in terms, again, the location. It is in a very residential area. Besides the fact that the shelters are, of course, “residential”, families with children who lack permanent housing in their neighborhood are human beings who deserve to be accommodated in their communities, and not to be stored in areas. non-residential.

Ten months earlier, at Brooklyn’s January CB11 meeting, when discussing a different proposal for a single men’s shelter in another part of the district, President William Guarinello refers to the 1,200 families of Bensonhurst who are in temporary accommodation and said the community council felt this facility “should have been more of a family shelter if you were to try and serve our homeless in our community.”

Brooklyn Schools CB11 and CB10 are located in School Districts 21 and 20. For the 2019-2020 school year – the last before the pandemic – 6% of all students in District 21 and 5.5% of all students in District 20, totaling 5,172 students who experienced homelessness in the past year. The Department of Education’s Economic Needs Index takes into account students’ financial difficulties, including whether they have lived in temporary accommodation in the past four years. Data shows that 73.1% of students in District 21 meet these criteria and 74.6% of students in District 20, up about 12% from 2017.

On November 15, at the monthly District 21 Community Education Council (CEC21) meeting, a resolution to oppose the homeless shelter planned for families with children in Bensonhurst has been put forward. As a board member, I was able to share my thoughts after his presentation. I focused on the fact that we have homeless families and students in our neighborhood, but currently we don’t have the capacity to help them here in our community. I outlined the statistics for our district and how the lack of shelter beds in our part of Brooklyn presents our most vulnerable families with additional barriers to getting back on their feet. Our council voted against considering the resolution that evening.

November 21, News12 filed a report from the planned refuge site in Bensonhurst, saying they “were supposed to meet one-on-one with Assembly member William Colton” but 50 people showed up to express their frustration. Colton had texted and emailed people directly earlier in the day, informing them that he had “been contacted by Channel 12 News for an interview [him] and residents about this proposal ”and welcoming people to come. Colton told the reporter he “found out about the construction of the shelter a week ago,” after learning about it three weeks earlier.

These are minor discrepancies, but presenting this false narrative ignites the conversation. The CEC21 resolution opposing the shelter said voters “vehemently oppose the construction of the homeless shelter,” at a time when there had been no reporting on it and the news of the shelter were known only to the small number of people who had attended the CB11 meeting six days earlier. He also said that “community leaders have publicly denounced this project,” while Colton was (and still is) the only local leader to speak publicly against the opposition.

It is fair and reasonable that any shelter be assessed and considered, but the neighborhoods of CB11 and CB10 need shelter and outright objecting to every proposed installation is unproductive. It is shameful to devote its efforts to denying families with children a place to get back on their feet in their own community.

The week after Thanksgiving, a nonprofit community outreach organization that I am a board member and volunteer for was contacted by another organization to see if we could help families who found themselves homeless because of ‘a fire in their building. One family – a single parent with several children – was given the opportunity to enter a shelter. The facility was in eastern New York City, over an hour by public transit from their children’s schools in District 20. They chose to stay in their community, close to their schools, without stable housing, 10 minutes from the site of the future Bensonhurst family shelter.

Jay Brown is an engineer and member of the Brooklyn Community Board 11 and the New York City Department of Education District 21 Community Education Council. On Twitter @JayBrownNYC.

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