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Proposed Park Slope homeless shelters spark heated debate

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Both shelters on Fourth Avenue are set to open in the fall

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At a Brooklyn Community Board 7 meeting on Tuesday night, city officials and Park Slope residents discussed two homeless shelters set to open on Fourth Avenue later this year. While some community members support the new shelters, to be located at 535 and 555 Fourth Avenue—even starting an online petition with 3,177 signatures—another group has been vocal in its opposition.

The site at 535 Fourth Avenue was set to be used for commercial purposes, while the one at 555 Fourth Avenue was meant to be a mixed-use building, Kings County Politics reported.

But earlier this year, the city’s Department of Homeless Services (DHS) announced that both sites would instead become shelters managed by nonprofit Win, to house families with children and offer transitional housing, case management, and group counseling, among other services.

The facility at 555 Fourth Avenue, set to open in December, will also include 2,500 square feet of retail space and will have an additional 29 permanent affordable housing units. According to DHS, priority will be given to families that have roots in area.

But the change in plans has angered some in the area. Last month, at a contract hearing, a group called Fourth Avenue Neighbors raised questions about the contracts for both homeless shelters, according to Gothamist, saying that the costs per unit are inflated at $10,557 per unit per month. “Someone is getting very, very rich off this contract and it isn’t New Yorkers experiencing homelessness,” they said in a statement.

The group has also questioned the developers chosen for the project, Slate Property Group and Adam America, saying that they have “checkered backgrounds.” Slate was the developer involved in the Rivington House deed restriction scandal on the Lower East Side. (As of recently, the building has been leased to Mount Sinai to build a behavioral health center.)

Tom Murphy, a Sunset Park resident, spoke about those displaced in the area and questioned the role the shelters had in those displacements. “[Buildings] were torn down, everybody was displaced, and luxury housing went in there—there’s nothing said about those people, they are not going to come back and fill those [permanent] apartments.”

But others in the neighborhood have also expressed their support for the shelters, saying they’re a needed resource in a city facing a worsening homelessness crisis. According to DHS figures, 16,500 Brooklynites are currently in city shelters.

“If we had a room this full, at an average public hearing to support Section 8 affordable housing, or if we had a room this full to support rent stabilization guidelines, or organizing against greedy landlords—if this is your first time getting involved in affordable housing, I would just ask yourself, why is it about this one thing?” John Alvarez, who lives two blocks away from the site, said during last night’s meeting. “We can address the issues that are very real, and I’m sure this developer is greedy, and we can address that—but I don’t want to hold homeless families hostage as a result.”

“No one wants to be in a shelter; permanent affordable housing is far preferable,” City Council member Brad Lander, who represents the district, says on his website in an FAQ about the shelters. “But around 60,000 of our fellow New Yorkers are homeless each night: 70 percent of them are families, including about 24,000 kids.”

“New York City has a moral and legal obligation to provide them with a safe, decent place to sleep, and that translates into providing shelter,” the FAQ reads.

The shelters are part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration Turning the Tide five-year plan to overhaul the existing shelter system. “Homeless New Yorkers come from every community across the five boroughs, so we need every community to come together to address homelessness.” Arianna Fishman, a spokesperson for DHS said in a statement.

“These high-quality facilities will offer families with children experiencing homelessness from Brooklyn the opportunity to be sheltered in their home borough, closer to their schools, jobs, support networks and communities they called home as they get back on their feet.”