People spoke, CB8 listened


I am writing to express my thoughts on the recent Community Board 8 land use committee hearing on the proposed families with children shelter at 5731 Broadway. 

As the newly elected chair of this board, I am immensely proud of the time, attention, concern and compassion our board and community exhibited. This is not only a major concern to our local community, it is also a major problem facing our city.

The city has an urgent need to find places for individuals, families and children who are homeless. Toward that end, the administration has revised its policy, described in “Turning the Tide,” a 128-page statement. Each community board is expected to accommodate those individuals and families, currently in the homeless system, whose last address was in that board. The city says the number for CB8 is 360 individuals.

Based on the new policy, the city notified the community board on July 14 that they would open a shelter for 81 families with children at 5731 Broadway,  a newly constructed residential building by mid-August. Mid-summer, the community board is not in session. While difficult to schedule a meeting, we knew there must be a community hearing.

The city needed to present their plan and the community and board members needed a forum to ask questions and give opinions.

The meeting dealt with two separate topics — the real estate and the social service operations of the facility. It is no secret that the developer, Mark Stagg, lied to the community board on a number of occasions. Those facts will be well-covered in the press or certainly in the minutes of the meeting, and I will not spend more time on them here. 

The issue will  be referred to the city’s Department of Investigation.

On another aspect of the facility, some assume that communities will always be opposed to the homeless. I heard and witnessed a community board and a community that asked for one thing: If there are to be homeless families at this new building, put them in permanent housing and do not make this a transient shelter.

This was not a sharply divided community. Some 200 community residents attended — one of the largest attendances ever. Despite these numbers, the occasional heckler or outburst, the meeting was orderly.  It was a community with the human desire to help.

The cure for homelessness is a home, not yet another revolving door for families with children to pass through to yet another waystation. That is not good for those families, for the communities they are in.

Indeed, if there was one pervasive theme of this meeting, it was not “not in my backyard.” Rather, it was a sense of collective frustration on the part of the community board and the community that a building that could have provided a permanent solution for many of those 360 of our neighbors in homelessness was being turned into just another stop along their difficult journey.

Similarly, many expressed a concern that the city had not taken the appropriate step of informing the community earlier on, in order to provide an opportunity for a constructive process.

I expect a lot to be written about this proposal and this year, both positive and negative. Privileged as I am to be chair of this community board, I saw we performed as a board should. We held a hearing. We brought the city and operator to the table to present. Questions were asked and answered, and opinions were expressed.

And what I heard was smart, intelligent, humane — no shelter. Give these families a home and a chance to end the cycle of homelessness.

The author is chair of Community Board 8.