shelter

A Quiet Welcome for Homeless Women, Blocks from Billionaire’s Row Shelter Site

A new homeless shelter for women with mental health issues is being built in a West 52nd Street building that previously housed a homeless program run by Covenant House, May 17, 2019.
A new homeless shelter for women with mental health issues is being built in a West 52nd Street building that previously housed a homeless program run by Covenant House, May 17, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Just blocks away from the planned Billionaires’ Row shelter that’s sparked a raucous legal battle, another refuge for the homeless is getting a quiet welcome.

The 120-bed Hell’s Kitchen facility, to be run by Care for the Homeless, will cater to women in need of mental health services, with an on-site clinic and case managers. It’s located on a mostly residential block on West 52nd Street, sandwiched between an apartment building and an elementary school.

The building at 427 W. 52nd St. stands about a 15-minute walk from the West 58th Street former hotel that’s the subject of an ongoing court fight over the city’s plans to open a men’s shelter there, in the shadow of Billionaires’ Row.

The Hell’s Kitchen structure previously served as a shelter for young mothers and their children, privately run by Covenant House for three decades until last year.

Care for the Homeless Executive Director George Nashak said he’s been talking with locals about the West 52nd Street shelter plan since December. He praised areas leaders for being “remarkably generous and welcoming.”

“They absolutely raised legitimate questions. They had wonderful, thoughtful questions. But this is not a community that has reacted in the way other communities have,” Nashak told THE CITY.

The nonprofit has reached out to three nearby block associations, staff and parent leaders at P.S. 111, the local community board, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and the area’s police precinct, Nashak said.

A woman walks by the shuttered Park Savoy Hotel on West 58th Street in Billionaires' Row, Feb. 28, 2019. Plans to turn the building into homeless shelter prompted an ongoing legal battle.
A woman walks by the shuttered Park Savoy Hotel on West 58th Street in Billionaires’ Row, Feb. 28, 2019. Plans to turn the building into homeless shelter prompted an ongoing legal battle. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

The Department of Homeless Services officially notified the community about the shelter plan in late March, the agency said. During a public presentation Thursday at Community Board 4’s health committee, some residents expressed concerns, which Nashak and his staff addressed.

There were questions about security (the shelter will have around-the-clock patrols and a 24-hour hotline “picked up by a human being,” Nashak said), the shelter curfew (10 p.m.) and staff-to-client ratios (at minimum, one staff member present for every 15 residents, but usually more).

One board member, Judith Dahill, wondered how common it was for a shelter to be located next to a school. Several people in the room reminded her: The school was next to a shelter for years.

‘A More Open Community’

Records show Covenant House sold the building last year for $16 million to a company managed by Shimmie Horn, a hotelier with a long history in the homeless shelter business.

The Covenant House operation blended into the neighborhood, according to Maria Ortiz, a licensed social worker, co-chair of the health committee and lifelong area resident. The only real evidence of it, she said, was young mothers pushing baby strollers on the block.

Community Board 4, which covers Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen, currently has several other shelter facilities, she noted, where issues sometimes crop up. A large men’s shelter on West 25th Street, in particular, elicits frequent complaints to the board, she said.

But overall, she said, locals are relatively accepting of social service facilities.

“We’re just a more open community,” she said.

The audience of about a dozen people at Thursday’s community meeting reflected that attitude.

“We welcome you,” one resident told the Care for the Homeless staff.

“This is wonderful,” another said before running through a list of questions.

A committee member who volunteers teaching financial literacy skills offered to help connect the women living in the shelter to lessons.

One of 90 New Shelters

Nashak encouraged anyone with lingering questions to contact his nonprofit. The group already held an open house at the planned shelter.

“We feel like part of our role as an organization serving homeless people is to demystify homelessness and demystify the shelter process,” Nashak said. “We wanted to throw our doors open and let people come in and see — there’s no mysteries happening in here.”

When it opens this summer, the West 52nd Street location will be one of 90 new shelters the de Blasio administration has set out to open as part of a five-year overhaul of the city’s shelter system. The city is covering Care for the Homeless’ $6.5 million operating budget at the location.

A spokesperson for the Department of Homeless Services said there are currently seven shelters operating in the Hell’s Kitchen and Chelsea area. Under the mayor’s plan, DHS intends to phase out five of those, including four commercial hotel sites and a notorious family shelter at The Aladdin, a former hotel near Times Square that is slated to close by the end of the year.

Do you live near the West 52nd Street shelter? Or do you live near one of the new shelters that has opened in recent years? We’d like to hear from you. Email reporter Rachel Holliday Smith at rsmith@thecity.nyc or text/WhatsApp 718-866-8674.

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