On Tuesday, Feb. 28, Community Board 7‘s Health & Human Services Committee held a Q&A with the public over Zoom to discuss the ‘Safe Haven’ homeless shelter coming to 106-108 West 83rd Street, between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenue.
The ‘low-barrier transitional housing program’ funded by Mayor Eric Adams will begin accepting homeless referrals into their 80-bed facility in April 2023, with an additional 28 beds coming in the summer. Breaking Ground, the non-profit from New York City which opened its first Safe Haven after renovating Times Square Hotel in 1990, will manage the program.
Health & Human Services Co-Chair Sheldon Fine led the meeting. “As you know, New Yorkers experience unsheltered homelessness,” said Fine during his introduction. “Those people are our most uniquely challenged population … these are our unsheltered neighbors.” Fine stated that from his experiences speaking with people living on the street that they “light up” with delight when they hear about Safe Haven options as some other homeless shelters can be hard for them to feel comfortable in.
Assistant Deputy Commissioner of Intergovernmental and Legislative Affairs at the Department of Social Services, Hailey Nolasco, spoke next. While a number of Upper West Siders have recently expressed frustrations over the fact that plans for this shelter were never shared with them, Nolasco expressed her deepest gratitude to the community for their support of the program. “We know it’s not always an easy thing so we just want to again, share our gratitude to the community for of course wanting to support our vulnerable New Yorkers here.”
Breaking Ground’s Safe Havens work on a referral program where their outreach teams go into the community to build rapport with the homeless. They share with them the services they offer like 24-hour security and staffing with a clinical and case management team, harm reduction specialists and psychiatric care. They also have programming which includes an art program, gardening, substance use support, and peer groups along with yoga and meditation. They also offer private bathrooms, which they say help people feel safe, and they plan to offer primary medical care down the road.
Courtney Clark, CB7’s youth, education and libraries co-chair, was not in support of Breaking Ground coming to the Upper West Side. “So, to me this location should have been a nonstarter.” Clark expressed concerns with schools and the playground located right across the street before asking what Breaking Ground’s plan was for ensuring safety for the community.
A community outreach team was discussed as a way to work with the community to do their best to ensure safety. “Safety is something that we take very seriously,” said Erin Madden, vice president of programs at Breaking Ground. “Again, we have vulnerable people inside our buildings. Many of them have histories of assault as well as our staff and community members.”
Madden explained that Breaking Ground staff walks around the surrounding area regularly to see if everyone they’ve taken in is okay and not experiencing distress.
During the question and answer segment of the meeting, members of the general public submitted questions and Fine would ask them on their behalf. This begins at about 59:40.
Council Member Gale Brewer expressed her approval of the shelter and told those in attendance that she’s spoken with neighboring schools and businesses.
Breaking Ground is open to all genders as well as pets. Men and women live on separate floors with rooms ranging from 1 to 4 beds. High-speed wi-fi is included.
Community Board 7’s Health & Human Services Committee voted 5 in favor with none opposed to the solution stating they “support the establishment of the planned Safe Haven at 106-108 West 83rd Street, with Breaking Ground as its service provider. Non committee members also voted 5 in favor with none opposed.
The Safe Haven shelter will be discussed again at Community Board 7’s full board meeting on March 7. Those who wish to attend can sign up here.
Sorry, but no one “lights up with delight” at the prospect of a homeless shelter on their street. If the homeless were really just homeless and went off to work each day, it would be fine, but we all know that the root of most homelessness is mental illness and drug and alcohol addictions–which will play out in our streets, stores, and restaurants.