By Lesley Grimm
Last week as temperatures plummeted, City agencies rushed to open “warming centers” in all five boroughs this month. But despite the flood of calls to the City’s 311 system, it seems the vast majority of New Yorkers were able to find their own shelter from the brutal deep freeze. In Brooklyn, volunteers and City employees staffed centers in Bushwick and Canarsie around the clock. But during the five day activation only about a dozen residents stopped in at each site, according to Office of Emergency Management spokesperson Andrew Troisi. Citywide, a total of two hundred people were assisted across nine locations. The City doubled the number of warming centers it opened during previous cold weather emergencies, and for the first time, the warming centers were located in neighborhoods where 311 calls were showing the greatest need. “We’re certainly not disappointed,” said Troisi of the low turnout, stressing the centers were set up for individuals who had no place else to go during the dangerous cold snap. “New Yorkers got the message that sheltering with family and friends is the best option,” he said. When we visited the Breukelen Community Center on East 105th Street on Thursday, Red Cross volunteer David Spira, 33, was working his second lonely shift. “We’re here and we’re ready,” Spira said. An officer from the NYPD and representatives from the Department of Homeless Services and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development were also on hand. But as the sun set on a frigid and windy evening, not a single person was inside the Canarsie warming center—and it been that way all day. On Wednesday, we’re told, only one person came by Breukelen for a brief warm-up. David Spira is surrounded by a sea of empty cots, boxes of snacks, soup and warm drinks. It is clear officials were bracing for a larger response, but Spira isn’t complaining. “It means the people on Brooklyn’s south are keeping warm,” he said, looking out on the empty shelter. The warming centers were just one facet of the City’s response to the cold weather. While warming centers have been closed, numerous drop-ins and shelters remain open to anyone in need. The City’s Department of Homeless Services has doubled its homeless outreach efforts. Teams are on the streets 24 hours a day, bringing in homeless individuals from the outdoors. “Our emergency procedure aims to protect those most at risk; we don’t want anyone dying on the streets,” Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Robert V. Hess said in a press release. Nine DHS Drop-Ins provide hot meals, showers, clothing and medical care. Staff can also help homeless individuals find a warm and safe place to sleep. Dial 311 to receive directions to a drop-in center and other information. City officials say tenants without adequate heat or hot water should first speak with their building owner, manager or superintendent. If the problem is not corrected, tenants should call 311. The Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) will attempt to contact your building’s owner to get the heat or hot water service restored. If service has not been restored, HPD will send an inspector to your building to verify the complaint and issue a violation. If your landlord does not live up to his or her legal obligation, HPD will call in emergency contractors to fix the boiler or do whatever is required to get your heat and hot water working again.