Representatives from the Department of Social Services (DSS) and the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) spoke at a Community Board 2 meeting to explain the need for smaller and more flexible shelters throughout the borough.
“When we think about the shelter system, it has been haphazard dating back 40 years,” said DHS administrator Joslyn Carter. “It’s just been really spread out all over the city with no real way of management.
“We’ve been working to really shrink our footprint and open up really good, high-quality shelters, one of which is this one at 1 Hoyt Street,” she added.
The Hoyt Street shelter will function as a general population center, rather than focusing on individuals with specialized substance abuse or mental health issues.
DSS deputy commissioner Erin Drinkwater explained that such general shelters are still needed, as high rents and the pandemic continue to cause homelessness for many different portions of the population.
“These are for individuals who might be experiencing homelessness because of the difference between the wages that they are earning and the rent that they are paying,” Drinkwater said. “They might have some social services needs that, while they are in shelter, will be addressed.”
The new shelter will be operated in partnership with Breaking Ground, a nonprofit organization that manages multiple shelters throughout the city.
“The shelter on Hoyt Street that we’re proposing to operate is going to be somewhat similar to what we currently do,” explained Matthew Okebiyi of Breaking Ground. “It’s going to have case management services, housing placement services, job search assistance, vocational services, substance abuse referral services, clinical staff, linkages, and security.”
Breaking Ground will also manage another new shelter being constructed on Apollo Street in Greenpoint. The Apollo Street Shelter, formally known as Apollo Safe Haven, has faced continuous and heavy backlash from some community members, who argue that North Brooklyn is being overburdened with shelters.
Over 1,700 people have signed a petition against the shelter, which argues that while homelessness is an issue that needs to be addressed, the lack of community input for planning for shelters is unacceptable.
“While we support the city's efforts to house the homeless,” the petition read, “no public meetings were held in the community about the shelter being built. We did not have a chance to voice our opinion on this matter.”
Unlike most other projects, homeless shelters are not subject to the city’s land use review process because of their special status as an emergency resource.
Greenpoint councilman Steve Levin expressed his dissatisfaction with the lack of community input, but also acknowledged his support for Breaking Ground and their work.
“If it was a less reputable provider, a provider I didn’t know as well, I wouldn’t be as comfortable,” he said. “I am very comfortable with Breaking Ground.”
Lincoln Restler, Greenpoint’s councilmember-elect, echoed a similar sentiment.
“While the communication to the Greenpoint community about the plans at Apollo Street was wholly inadequate, we should focus now on being the best neighbors we can be to the future residents of the Apollo Safe Haven,” Restler said. “I will do my best to ensure that we have high quality onsite services, a thoughtful security plan, and tight coordination between the new shelter and the neighbors to make this site a success.”