A man sleeping on the corner of 136th St. and Willow Avenue.

Board 1 blasts city’s homeless policy

A representative from the mayor’s office told fed-up community board members that hizzoner will see to it that neighborhoods other than Mott Haven get their fair share of homeless shelters.

A man sleeping on the corner of 136th St. and Willow Avenue.
A man sleeping on the corner of 136th St. and Willow Avenue.

But mayor’s spokesman says it will change

A community liaison from the mayor’s office told Community Board 1 the new administration will be more mindful than its predecessor about placing homeless shelters in neighborhoods like Mott Haven, which residents say has long been saturated with the facilities.

At a Sept. 25 meeting at the board’s Melrose office, Elvin Garcia, director of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Bronx office of borough affairs, fended off angry criticism from the board demanding the city distribute shelters more evenly across the borough. “We recognized [long ago] that these shelters were a problem,” said Arline Parks, chair of the Board 1’s housing and land use committee, adding that the board “even went so far as to pass a moratorium on any new shelters.”

According to the Department of Homeless Services, Community Board 1 has 14 shelters, behind only Boards 3 and 4 (Morrisania and Highbridge), each of which has 18, from among the borough’s 12 community districts.

“If there’s fair share, there shouldn’t be two districts in the Bronx that have none,” said District Manager Cedric Loftin. Two community boards, 8 and 11, which represent Morris Park and Riverdale, have no shelters at all.

Garcia repeatedly tried to distance the de Blasio administration’s policies for the homeless from those of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Critics say that under Bloomberg the city enriched landlords by paying them too generously to convert apartments into shelters or cluster sites for the homeless; and rewarded unscrupulous non-profit groups by paying for promised job training and other services that were rarely provided.

Still, Garcia said, the need for beds for the homeless is “growing exponentially.” “We’re looking at this comprehensively,” he said, insisting new policies will eliminate the use of cluster sites, which he called “a horrible model.”

Even so, he said, “I’m not going to sugarcoat it and tell you it’s the ideal situation.”

District Manager Cedric Loftin told the board that Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. announced at a private meeting with district managers and board chairs earlier in the week that he would advocate to the mayor’s office for more equitable distribution of shelters in the Bronx.

Board member Michael Brady suggested the city impose a cap on the number of shelters permitted in the city’s neighborhoods. Meanwhile, though, funds are urgently needed to help serve the overflow of homeless people idling their days away in Mott Haven when the shelters are closed, he said.

“You better shove us some money so we can fix the problem,” Brady told Garcia. Board members complained that the profusion of homeless people in the neighborhood has stretched services to the breaking point.

“Our libraries are significantly impacted during the day,” said Mott Haven resident Linda Ortiz, adding that people who sleep at the shelters are “pushed out. There’s nothing happening so the homeless adults are finding shelter anywhere else.”

Schools suffer because children staying short term in the shelters come and go at a dizzying rate, said Parks. Local subways, too, are impacted, she said, pointing out that the 6 train’s Cypress Avenue station has disintegrated into a forbidden zone where idle men congregate.

Others lamented a big drop in home values as a result of years of landlords converting buildings into shelters near 140th St. and Cypress and Jackson avenues.

“Five historic houses now sit empty and are about to be demolished because of the shelters,” hollered homeowner Walter Nash, adding that residents’ repeated criticisms to pressure the city to stop bringing in new homeless facilities have fallen on deaf ears. A shelter recently built on the corner of 140th and Jackson is “as big as the one we stopped,” he added, referring to a planned shelter residents successfully prevented from coming in at the same location.

“Our houses are worth doodoo,” Nash said.