Greenpoint Residents To Homeless: Take Shelter Elsewhere

The Greenpoint Reformed Church. (jessica.dailey, flickr)

The Greenpoint Reformed Church. (jessica.dailey, flickr)

They’re not against housing the homeless per se, but Milton Street residents just feel that some other block or some other neighborhood would be a better choice, a more appropriate choice.

“I’m not against the homeless having someplace to go, but not like this,” Don Stella told The Brooklyn Paper, differentiating himself from those who believe the homeless should not, in fact, have someplace to go.

The center of the controversy is a 10-bed shelter at the Greenpoint Reformed Church, the Paper reports, which opened in November. The Reformed Church was the only local church that stepped up to the task when the Department of Homeless Services called for organizations willing to host a respite shelter. The church will be paid $100,000 annually for housing the men, which the church says goes largely to the salaries of the staff running the shelter, the remainder to supplies and building upkeep.

Neighbors complain of vomit and urine-drenched sidewalks, catcalls, yelling and other intolerable changes to the street since the homeless shelter opened. The charges seem a little trumped up, given that the church only houses 10 men, unlike the 200-bed shelter that opened on McGuinness Boulevard in September. That shelter also faced strong neighborhood opposition, with locals objecting to the city busing in homeless from other parts of the city rather than serving the older Polish homeless men who populated the local streets as well as McGolrick and McCarren parks.

But unlike the McGuinness Boulevard shelter, which went through a tedious approval process,the church shelter opened quickly, to give the local population a place to go on cold nights after the Church of Ascension backed out of hosting the respite shelter in November.

Pastor Ann Kansfield has defended the 10-bed shelter, as well as the church’s other charitable projects—a food bank and a soup kitchen because, well, isn’t helping the less fortunate what churches are supposed to do?

But outraged neighbors say helping the homeless is the last straw.

“I’ve held my breath when walking by crates of produce that were delivered to the Church that sat out on the curb in the sun,” resident Margaret McMahon wrote in a letter to her neighbors, according to The Greenpoint Gazette.  “[A friend once said to me], ‘What concerns me most is this is just the beginning, first a food bank – what’s next, a homeless shelter?’ I laughed and I said that would never happen. Well, here we are, Milton Street is now the proud owner of a food bank, a soup kitchen, and a homeless shelter.”

The controversy is one of many happening in Brooklyn’s gentrified and gentrifying neighborhoods. Carroll Gardens, for example, is battling the conversion of a defunct condo project into a 120-bed shelter.

In both cases, neighbors claim that the projects have been rushed through the approval process (respite bed programs, which are temporary in nature, do not require the same approvals as permanent programs). And while it may be true that residents should be informed of changes to their neighborhoods, and that the city’s homelessness policies leave something (or a lot) to be desired, the arguments put forward by neighbors tend to be that they simply don’t want to host poor people in their neighborhoods and that other streets, or other neighborhoods, are better suited to the task.

As one Carroll Gardens resident told The Times in October, “I didn’t spend my whole life helping make Carroll Gardens a decent place to let somebody do a dumb idea like this.”

The implication being that housing the poor would somehow make the neighborhood a bad place, that the homeless are somehow not decent, and that they are not our responsibility, even as their numbers swell—in 2012, the number spiked to more than 46,000 adults and children—in our rapidly gentrifying city.

kvelsey@observer.com