Opponents of a proposed 400-bed homeless shelter in Williamsburg rallied against the plan last night, calling on Mayor Bloomberg to cancel it.
“What they’re creating is a warehouse for homeless men,” said Jose Leon.
Opening the East Williamsburg Industrial Park facility, at an old factory at 89 Porter Ave., is the first half of a plan to close the 800-bed 30th Street men’s shelter at Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan. The city will build a second 400-bed facility in the Bronx.
The Giuliani administration signed a $180 million, 22-year contract with the Manhattan-based Doe Fund to operate the shelter, immediately drawing the ire of Brooklyn elected officials and community activists, who sued the city.
Marty Needelman, a lawyer with Brooklyn Legal Services, said the city used subterfuge to avoid input from the community. But the city maintained the plan did not require review because, in part, the Doe Fund is a nongovernmental firm buying a building from a private seller.
“It’s a bad precedent,” Needelman said. “If the city can get away with avoiding the land-review process through this technicality on a $180-million project, then they can do that on a lot of other projects and undermine one of the critical features of the City Charter.”
Lower courts have ruled against the project opponents, but they have filed notice that they intend to appeal.
Even the Coalition for the Homeless — which fights to get the city to live up to its obligations to provide shelter, housing and services for the homeless — is opposed to the project.
“It’s an incredibly shortsighted and poor policy,” Patrick Markee, a senior policy analyst for the Coalition for the Homeless, said of the plan. “Our position has been that that money would be much better spent to open permanent housing for the rising number of homeless men.”
But George McDonald, founder of The Doe Fund, which finds work and provides treatment for homeless men, said the coalition should be working with The Doe Fund, not fighting it, on this project.
“This is a replacement facility, not a new shelter,” McDonald said. “In a system like we have in New York City, you have to have tranistional facilities. You can’t take somebody right off the street and put them in permanent housing.”
But Assemblyman Vito Lopez (D-Williamsburg) asked why it has to be Williamsburg, which has a waste-transfer station that processes 40% of the city’s trash daily and a 200-bed homeless shelter in nearby Greenpoint.
He said he had heard a bio-tech medical research facility is being installed in place of the Manhattan homeless shelter that would be closed down.
“Instead of giving us the homeless shelter, give us the bio-tech research facility,” Lopez said. “It would be a very positive thing for our community because it would create hundreds of jobs.”
Linda Gibbs, commissioner of the city Homeless Services Department, said the project is a necessary service.
“It is not a matter of making a choice between providing permanent housing, or a homeless shelter,” she said. The city has an obligation to provide shelter for anyone who needs it.”