A women’s homeless shelter in Bedford-Stuyvesant is slated to house men by the end of the year, displacing its 103 residents—and blindsiding neighbors who say they had no notice of the change.
“On the eve of the holiday when other people are preparing a meal, preparing to sit down with their family to open gifts, our women are going to have to pack their bags in the middle of the night and move to communities that perhaps they are unaware of, are unfamiliar with and to begin the process of starting their lives over once again,” City Council Member Laurie Cumbo told reporters and Bed-Stuy residents huddled Dec. 17 outside the shelter on a cold, rainy night.
Neighbors say that women were told earlier in the month that they would be relocated within 30 days to shelters across Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan. Cumbo (D-Brooklyn) said she was alerted just two days before the transfers started.
“That is undermining my leadership, that is undermining the safety of the community and that’s undermining the entire status of how this community has operated for so many years,” Cumbo said.
She called the change unsafe for the women and the community and also said it could be unfair for the relocated men: “It is not safe to welcome our men into a community that has not been properly prepared to welcome them.” Cumbo noted that her district has welcomed this shelter and others, in contrast to neighborhoods elsewhere that have opposed them.
The city Department of Homeless Services said the shelter transition was necessary because more men need shelter. “At this location, we are transitioning to providing shelter, services and support to single adult men ahead of the seasonal increase in the need for shelter for single adult men as winter arrives,” said Arianna Fishman, the department’s press secretary.
That reasoning was questioned by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who joined Cumbo at the press conference. “If we know that is the case every winter, why don’t we have a better plan to make sure that this doesn’t have to happen?” he asked. “I hate to see us pitting communities against each other when they all have the same needs.”
Keiko Niccolini, 42, a Bed-Stuy resident who works in marketing, heard the news from a shelter resident who texted to say she would be forced to leave. Niccolini reached out to Homeless Services to see if the message was true. She said an agency spokesperson told her they would be “flipping” the shelter to an all men’s “mental illness shelter.” Niccolini then appealed for a public hearing with a Change.org petition that more than 1,400 people have signed.
Cumbo and some residents said they also oppose the change to a men’s shelter because of potential neighborhood safety risks. Niccolini said she remains concerned about a lack of information. “Do we need increased security?” she asked. “How can we get good information to ensure our safety?”
Cumbo and Niccolini said women who had been living in the shelter told them that some residents had been moved in small groups by car overnight to other shelters. “Doing it in the middle of the night without any community involvement creates a higher level of anxiety and apprehension,” Cumbo said, calling such transfers “inhumane” and “unnecessary.”
Neighbors say the women who have lived at the shelter at 85 Lexington Ave, operated by the Bowery Residents’ Committee, have become as much a part of the community as other local residents.
Anders Knutsson, 82, an artist who has lived in the neighborhood for 30 years, said residents have had amicable relationships with the management and employees of the shelter, as well as with the women. “They’ve been great neighbors,” he said. “And they’re friendly with all kinds of neighborly issues we’ve had. The ladies should be residing here.”
Knutsson said he said he doesn’t feel good about the planned changes since they were not communicated to residents of the neighborhood. “The city was, well I would say, sneaky about it,” he said. “They avoided direct questions.”
Like Niccolini, Knutsson was upset to hear about the shelter changes from a woman who lived there.
“They’re members of our neighborhood, so to be offered no engagement as a community and neighborhood whatsoever by the Department of Social Services, by the Department of Homeless Services—this is not how this process is supposed to work,” Niccolini said. “This is not becoming of the city that I call my home,” she said.