Notes From The Respite Center Community “Forum”
Filed under: 11222, Greenpoint, Greenpoint Brooklyn, Greenpoint Magic
NOTE/CAVEAT: It was agreed that any/all press (including “blogs”) refrain from posting commentary from the attendees present. I intend to respect this.* However, there was plenty of very informative information tendered by Councilman Levin, Rami Metal, representatives of the Department of Homeless Services, Common Ground and Pastors Kansfield and Aull. This I will endeavor to share. For the sake of simplicity I have opted to organize the two hours worth of “discussion” by topic. If there is anything I missed or mistook, please let me know via comments!
Exactly how did this facility come into being?
The Greenpoint Homeless Task Force
It was explained to everyone present (albeit in a discontinuous fashion) this respite shelter is the culmination of several years of work on the part of a number of people. Mr. Levin’s “right hand man”, Rami Metal, in his previous capacity as the same under David Yassky (Levin’s predecessor) started something called the Greenpoint Homeless Task Force. He did so because he was disturbed by the number of homeless men residing in our public spaces (parks) and waterfront. This body, which includes employees of Outreach, the 94th Precinct, The Department of Health (because a number of our homeless have issues with addiction), the Parks Department (because that is where Greenpoint’s homeless tend to congregate/live), among many others came together with the common goal of addressing Greenpoint’s homeless problem.
The first step in this process was actually identifying exactly how many homeless (men) there are in Greenpoint and learn who they are. To this end Common Ground was brought in. For those of you who are not in the know, Common Ground has a contract with our fair city and does all of its homeless outreach. INTERESTING FACT/ASIDE: one can call 311 and (for wont of a nicer way of putting it) alert the city of a homeless person in his/her community. The operator will ask the caller to give a detailed description and an outreach team will be dispatched within two hours. Outreach discerned that there are fifteen bone fide homeless individuals in Greenpoint and got to know them. Presently ten of these men are using the respite center at the Greenpoint Reformed Church on a daily basis. In other words: this respite center is not seeing a “revolving door” in terms of occupancy— but I am getting ahead of myself.
Communication with the Department of Homeless Services
Upon entering office Councilman Levin took up the matter of creating a shelter (and I am using the term quite loosely) for these individuals with the head of the Department of Homeless Services: Robert Hess. He seemed amenable to the idea and stated if a location could be found for such a facility, he would fund it. However, Mr. Hess was replaced by (the current head) Seth Diamond. He did not seem as enthusiastic so the matter was tabled.
This changed once it became apparent that at least one homeless man a year was dying due to hypothermia for wont of a safe, warm place to sleep. The rather brutal assault which came to pass in McCarren Park last summer also made it clear something needed to be done. So the plans for a respite center were made a priority.
Initially the Church of the Ascension was to be the location for this facility. Reverend Merz negotiated with the Department of Homeless Services and Common Ground (among others) an agreement was made in regards to funding and it seemed to be a “go”. However, Mr. Merz had to withdraw. His reason for doing so was a very sound one: he had a contract pending with a developer to utilize unused FAR for the “public hall” of his church. Given that churches in general are strapped for cash, this makes sense. However due to this turn of events, he could not obligate to the six month minimum contract as required by the Department of Homeless Services. He had to withdraw. Thus, it was “shopped around” to other churches in our community. The Greenpoint Reformed Church, despite serious trepidation (as was made quite clear by Ms. Kansfield and especially Ms. Aull), stepped up to the plate.
The final details for the respite shelter were finessed “two to three weeks” before Hurricane Sandy hit. The Nor’Easter which followed pushed the timetable forward. Thus, this facility was opened November 18th— apparently without Mr. Levin’s knowledge. However, the Greenpoint Reformed Church did announce it on their site. The contract they have (via Common Ground— the Department of Homeless Services cannot dispense funds directly to a religious organization) runs through June 2013 and it was made explicit therein that the Greenpoint Reformed Church has “veto power” over who can and more importantly— who cannot— “reside” at this respite shelter. Councilman Levin made repeatedly clear he was very apologetic as to the lack of awareness raising on his part. He claimed total responsibility and hoped (as did the other representatives present) that there will hopefully be better communication moving forward.
Exactly how does this “respite shelter” work?
First, let’s consider how it is different than 400 McGuinness. As a Department of Homeless Services representative explained (and this is keeping it very simple): there are shelters such as BRC’s assessment facility at 400 McGuinness (which are part of larger “system”) and ancillary shelters which are geared towards what she called “street homeless”. The objectives of both are the same: to provide homeless individuals shelter, treatment and, ultimately, permanent housing (more often than not, in SROs**).
The difference lies (at least in terms of the respite center at the Greenpoint Reformed Church) in methodology. More specifically, the latter is local in scope and seeks to house individuals who are unwilling and unable to enter the “traditional” shelter system. The reasons for this are many. As it pertains to the respite center at the Greenpoint Reformed Church, the men they serve have language “issues” (READ: as Polish immigrants, they do not speak English fluently) and have addiction problems (alcoholism, mostly). While these men have “priority” in terms of shelter at BRC’s facility at 400 McGuinness (which assesses homeless men from the city in general), they have not elected to use it. Entering a shelter is purely voluntary; it cannot be forced. Like I previously wrote: the needs of these individuals are very specific and as such this respite shelter was created to address them.
The “nuts and bolts”
The respite center at the Greenpoint Reformed Church is staffed by two employees from Common Ground. As I previously stated, this is the organization which has been contracted by the city to do homeless outreach. They are the operators of this facility. Common Ground staff meet the ten homeless men in question at Greenpoint Avenue and Manhattan Avenue every evening at 9:00 p.m. They escort these fellows to the shelter. After dinner is served the beds are rolled out and they go to sleep. The employees stay with them. The following morning (at 5:40 a.m.), they escort these men back to Greenpoint Avenue and Manhattan Avenue. It was also noted they do patrols of Milton Street (between Manhattan Avenue and Franklin Street) to ensure there is no malingering/”trouble”.
Does this respite shelter have a bathroom? (Because this being New York Shitty it deserves its own heading)
Yes it does! What’s more, the Department of Homeless Services has approved funding for a shower. The rationale for this is quite simple (and lest I have not made it clear via these notes thus far): as chronically homeless men, the goal is to get them sheltered and care so they can, hopefully, be “reintegrated” back into society. Obviously personal hygiene is essential to making this happen.
What will happen if/when the ten men at this facility presently are placed in permanent housing?
As it was noted by both representatives the Department of Homeless Services and Common Ground, this can take years to happen. However, the intent with the respite shelter at the Greenpoint Reformed Church is to target a specific homeless population: Greenpoint’s homeless population. When Greenpoint ceases to have homeless individuals, this facility will have served its purpose.
Since I have promised not to publish any of the discussion from tonight’s two hour meeting, there’s really not much more to write. HOWEVER, the Common Ground representative present, Doug Becht, made quite clear:
- If anyone has problems of an urgent nature regarding the conduct of any of the men who use this facility, call the 311 (the police).
- If anyone has concerns of a less severe but chronic nature, contact Common Ground at 347-573-1746.
In closing, it was announced there would be another community meeting in “about one month”. Those who signed up at this evening’s convocation will receive notice as to when this will happen. When I hear something, I’ll say something here.***
P.S.: For those of you who are wondering, here is a roster of public officials who turned out at tonight’s meeting: Linda Minucci (50th Assembly District Democratic Party Female Leader), Steve Levin (City Councilman for the 33rd District), a representative from Joe Lentol’s office and, in an albeit unofficial capacity (Community Board 1 was apparently not notified of this convocation), the Public Safety Chair of Community Board 1.
*With one exception. One attendee noted:
There is no application to be a member of the (this) community. (One does not) audition to be a member.
**Single Room Occupancy
**On a more provocative note, one attendee informed the Mister (who arrived late) that there will be a meeting of individuals opposed to the respite shelter January 31st. No further details were given.