File photo/QNS
This factory on Cooper Avenue in Glendale was once the proposed site of a homeless shelter.

The Department of Homeless Services (DHS), as part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to eliminate the use of cluster sites and commercial hotels as temporary shelters, is seeking more community input about where it should put new, borough-based shelters.

In a letter sent to community boards and City Council members on March 23, DHS Commissioner Steven Banks provided updated statistics about de Blasio’s “Turning the Tide on Homelessness in New York City” plan and asked the elected officials and community representatives to help nonprofit service providers select sites for the new shelters.

According to the letter, DHS has said in public and private forums, meetings and conversations with elected officials that it welcomes community input, but the letter serves as a more formal call to action.

“We are encouraged by engagement like this and urge communities across the city to similarly join us in this process by helping identify viable locations for consideration as we turn the tide,” the letter said. “We are confident that, together, with your support, we will make this the best experience it can be for New Yorkers in need as they get back on their feet.”

The success of this engagement has already been on display in Brooklyn and the Bronx, according to a DHS spokesperson. Community Board 6 in Brooklyn, for example, invited the department to hold two meetings to discuss the area’s need for shelter capacity, shelter siting, criteria for facilities and how the community can help guide the process, the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson also emphasized that DHS does not identify possible locations for shelters itself. Proposals for new shelter locations can only be submitted by nonprofit service providers through the department’s Request for Proposal (RFP) process, and the proposals are then evaluated by DHS. Where the community boards and elected officials can get involved is in helping connect the nonprofit service providers to potential sites.

Councilman Robert Holden, who was a leader in the fight against converting a Holiday Inn Express in Maspeth into a homeless shelter in 2017, said that he discussed this aspect of the mayor’s plan at the Queens Borough Board meeting in January.

While Holden agreed that asking for community input is a plan that makes sense, he told QNS on March 28 after receiving the DHS letter that he wants to be sure the department is following the “ground rules” in the mayor’s plan before suggesting a location.

“When I met with DHS representatives, I said that before I give them sites I want assurances that the people that need the housing will be from the neighborhood,” Holden said.

Within Community Board 5, there were ongoing discussions about potential shelter sites for several months before the DHS sent out the letter, said Board 5 district manager Gary Giordano. In a community that is primarily filled with one- and two-family homes, Giordano said, the size of a potential shelter plays a major factor in the community’s willingness to accept it.

I think that in too many cases what the DHS is looking to do from the standpoint of shelters can be overwhelming to the community when you’re looking to put 200 people into a location,” Giordano said. “Something of the typical shelter size that they would initiate could be like adding another block to the neighborhood.”

Before de Blasio’s “Turning the Tide” plan was enacted, a proposed shelter site in Glendale in 2015 was hotly contested by members of the community, including Holden and Board 5, and the proposal ultimately fell through.


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