Board 4 Opts for Mass Memorial
For District’s 9/11 Victims
While the 2,797 individuals who perished in the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center led 2,797 separate lives, they have come to be united forever in their collective tragic deaths-and in the debate over how best to honor their memory, they are invariably regarded as a group. But while it seems likely that a significant portion of the 16-acre Ground Zero site will be dedicated to a group memorial, some of the victims’ families are vying for more personalized tributes, closer to home.
Requests have been pouring in to the New York City Council from victims’ families who would like to have streets in the victims’ neighborhoods named in their honor. Last month, the City Council passed a bill granting 81 of these requests (the bill now awaits Mayor Bloomberg’s signature to become law). A sign bearing the victim’s name will be posted below the existing street sign; however, no change will be made on the city map. News of the bill prompted a second wave of similar requests from other families, and the Council also plans to respond to these with a single bill slated to be drawn up sometime in the next couple of months.
City Council member Christine Quinn received one such follow-up request, from the family of Chelsea resident Mary (Molly) Herencia, which she submitted to Community Board 4 for its approval for inclusion in the upcoming City Council bill. Jeremy Hoffman, Ms. Quinn’s representative to Board 4, came to the board’s Oct. 2 meeting to make the case. “This is a pretty unique situation,” Mr. Hoffman told board members, “because [Herencia] was a very active member of the community; it’s something that the family really feels strongly about.”
Herencia-who was born in Chelsea, lived there her entire life and was active in the Hudson Guild (a century-old organization that provides services such as child care and recreation programs and assistance for needy families)-found a number of supporters among Board 4 members. “Most of the people who live in Chelsea are transients,” said board member Frank Eadie. “Molly is not like most Chelsea residents,” he added, pointing out that Herencia represented “an important part of this community that doesn’t often get recognized: people who were born here.”
While streets are usually named for public figures, Molly Herencia was simply “a good, active, healthy member of the community” whose recognition would pay homage to “the not-so-well-known people” who were victims of the tragedy, argued board member Janice McGuire.
But Community Board 4 encompasses Chelsea as well as Hell’s Kitchen, where additional street names such as Restaurant Row (a.k.a. West 46th Street) regularly disorient tourists, travelers and sometimes even locals. Board 4 therefore has a firm policy of discouraging any additional street names. “I think we should do something,” said board member Ann Sewell. “A plaque, a memorial …. ” But, she continued, “I am adamantly against fiddling around with street names.”
Echoing this sentiment, Board 4 opted for a group rather than an individual memorial. Members voted 20 to 13 against affixing Herencia’s name to the street sign on West 25th Street between Ninth and 10th avenues, where she lived. Instead, the board decided to form a task force to explore options and raise private funds for a group memorial of some type for the Sept. 11 victims from its district. “There are a lot of people that were affected by this,” said board member Robert Trentlyon, who suggested the neighborhood group memorial. “They were all important people who should be remembered.”
On Upper West Side
Residents of the Upper West Side-a neighborhood that has long been home to a number of Manhattan’s homeless shelters-are well-acquainted with the city’s homeless crisis. In recent months, however, frustration has grown as shelter-related complaints have soared. Now, city officials have opened yet another shelter in the neighborhood, giving the community only 72 hours’ advance notice, and tension has swelled between the city and neighbors who feel left out of local homeless-housing decisions.
First, there were the well-publicized complaints about the Malibu Hotel on Broadway, which was converted into housing for homeless people with H.I.V. and AIDS in April. Soon afterward, residents were claiming that the block had become a magnet for rampant drug use, fighting and bottle-throwing.
Then, this summer, the New York Police Department’s 20th Precinct reported an increase in complaints about homeless people living on 79th and 80th streets, as well as in Riverside Park. And while the number of complaints about the Malibu decreased thanks to constant patrols of the area, police are still dealing with the high volume of complaints at another single-room-occupancy hotel in the area: the Marion.
So when a representative from the Department of Homeless Services came to Community Board 7′s Oct. 1 meeting to discuss the recent opening of another shelter at 211 West 101st Street-without the board’s advance approval-there was an outburst.
“I was just so appalled that it never came to us,” board member Phyllis Gunther told The Observer.
City officials contracted with the new shelter, known as the Frant Hotel, in September, said D.H.S. spokesman Jim Anderson. The hotel is a conditional shelter run by a for-profit provider. But unlike the Malibu and Marion Hotels, this new 100-unit D.H.S. facility is strictly for families and will have caseworkers on site, Mr. Anderson said.
The city’s ongoing homeless-housing woes are not going away, as illustrated by Mayor Bloomberg’s recently published Management Report, which showed a spike in the number of homeless families entering shelters for the first time, from 4,528 in fiscal year 2001 to 6,360 in fiscal year 2002.
Things got worse for the city on Sept. 25, when the Bronx House of Detention for Men was shut down at the behest of Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Helen Freedman. Judge Freedman ruled that the facility, opened as a stopgap by the city to house the growing number of homeless families, violated a housing law prohibiting longer-term barracks-style housing for the homeless.
The scramble to move families out of the Bronx facility and into other shelters was partly to blame for the urgency with which the city opened the Frant Hotel, Mr. Anderson said.
“The city is dealing with record levels of families in need of temporary shelters-levels higher than the 1980′s,” Mr. Anderson told The Observer. “The city had to work with great urgency to meet the demand.”
Neighborhood residents and the board want low-income housing on the Upper West Side, said Ms. Gunther, who sits on the board’s health and human-services committee. But the experience with the Malibu Hotel left a sour taste in residents’ mouths, she said. And had the board known about the Frant Hotel well in advance, they would have demanded that the city provide counseling as well as long-term case work in order to stave off the crime that sprang from other area S.R.O.’s.
“The city obviously needs the space” for the homeless, Ms. Gunther said. “But the quality of life for them and the quality of life for people in the neighborhood is being shattered.”
Board member Elizabeth Starkey, like Ms. Gunther, said that residents don’t have a problem with the homeless in the neighborhood, but that a resistance could develop.
“It can turn the community against the people who come in,” she said. “That hasn’t happened yet, I hear. [The residents] really don’t resent the people, but it will happen if there are continuing problems and nothing is done about it. You’ll have this terrible attack of NIMBY-ism, and that is something we would very much like to avoid.”
While no resolution to the Frant House conflict was hammered out between the board and the city at the Oct. 1 meeting, a D.H.S. representative and the shelter’s operator, Alan Lapis, plan to meet with the board’s human-services committee on Oct. 22.
October 9: Board 6, New York University Medical Center, 550 First Avenue, Classroom A, 7 p.m., 319-3750.
October 10: Board 5, Fashion Institute of Technology, 227 West 27th Street, Building A, eighth floor, 6 p.m., 465-0907.
October 15: Board 11, 1918 First Avenue, Draper Hall, 99th Street, 6:30 p.m., 831-8929; Board 1, 90 Beekman Southbridge Towers, community room, ground floor, 6 p.m. 442-5050.