Homeowners and residents of Herkimer Street near Sackman receive a surprise phone call from Community Board 16’s president this past spring. A 202 bed men’s shelter is to be placed in 1424 Herkimer Street. The 1400 Herkimer Street block is a tree lined family neighborhood composed of well-kept one and two family homes.
Eartha Stevens, President of the 1400 Herkimer Block Association, has lived on Herkimer Street for 48 years. “I don’t want this shelter. I raised my children here and I am an adoptive and foster care mother. I have other kids coming to my home; they call me ‘grandma.’ If they bring a homeless shelter to our community, our property values go down. We can’t afford to move. I don’t want a men’s shelter or woman’s shelter. Make it an education building or senior citizen housing.”
Bernadette Mitchell, VP of 1400 Herkimer Block Association, is also concerned. “We oppose the proposed shelter at 1424 Herkimer Street. It is not that we have no compassion for the less fortunate. Our neighborhood is saturated with homeless shelters,” she said. “The 73rd precinct has seen an uptick in crimes and robberies. I am not sure if it is related to the homeless shelters. The crime rate in our neighborhood is on the rise. We know CAMBA has a homeless shelter just two blocks away at 2402 Atlantic Avenue. Within five blocks from the proposed shelter, there also is a transitional facility of 216 families. We have our fair share of facilities. We feel the city is using our neighborhood as a dumping ground for the less fortunate.”
Ms. Mitchell said, “On the CAMBA website, they say they help enhance the quality of life of the people going to their programs. But they have given no regard to our quality of life. We are working class people. My tenant told me ‘if they put a shelter there – 200 people sitting outside all day, littering, urinating – I am going to have to move.’ What’s going to happen to me? I am a single parent of a 13-year-old daughter. What happens when our tenants start to move and we can’t pay our mortgage? They are not helping our community. They are putting a burden on us. We have put our life savings into buying our homes so that we can put our children through college. All our dreams will be destroyed because the city thinks it can come and target our neighborhood.”
“We have had a letter writing campaign; we sent more than 1,500 letters to our elected officials. We have petitions with 800 signatures that have been sent to Comptroller John Liu, Councilman Eric Martin Dilan, Senator Dilan, Congressman Towns, Borough President Marty Markowitz, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Assemblyman William Boyland and Community Board 16’s Viola Green Walker,” said Ms. Mitchell. The community has also had three rallies opposing the shelter.
According to Ms. Stevens, the proposed site had a history of businesses located there. Decades ago, it housed NY Telephone, then a printing shop. For 20 years it housed a furniture warehouse before it was abandoned.
“We are a community of one and two family homes and a few multi-family duplexes. By bringing in all these homeless individuals, they are quadrupling the population of our community. They are overtaking us,” Ms. Mitchell said. “We are a small block of homeowners. We keep it together. We shovel together. We commune. Now they want to bring this homeless shelter which is directly attached to family’s homes with children living on both sides. There is a playground one block away and on each opposite corner there is a school. They want to put unscreened persons in that building.”
Ms. Stevens said, “We found out April 7 that the building was designated as a proposed men’s shelter by telephone from CB 16.” “The community was angry because the Community Board knew about it since December 20, and they didn’t notify us,” said Mitchell. “They called us the same day they were bringing sheet rock into the building.”
“Our councilman Eric Dilan has been fighting really hard with us. Community activist Tony Herbert helped us, also,” said Ms. Mitchell. The entire block association has been working together. Councilman Charles Barron offered support. “We now have the whole community involved.”
Tony Herbert said, “There are private homes in a 4 block radius in each direction. Within a one mile radius there are at least 11 other shelters. It’s an over-saturation. At this point, there is a 202 bed men’s shelter they want to put in. They have a 600 bed and a 200 bed men’s shelters not too far from there.”
Mr. Herbert explained his support for the Ocean Hill homeowners. “I work with a shelter. I understand the need for a roof over their heads. I don’t think that any one group or any one community should have more than their fair share of shelters, and not have adequate security to protect the young women and young men and the kids. They are talking about bringing men form all kinds of circumstances – some are being released from jail,” said Mr. Herbert. “No one outlined the strategy to protect people from this. I think it’s not fair to a community overburdened with their fair share. There are other locations that they can find. With all the money they are spending, let’s open up some affordable housing for people to live in.”
“We are trying to fight this shelter every way possible for the safety of our children and our seniors. We are homeowners,” said Ms. Mitchell. “Our safety is being threatened as well as our quality of life.”