Tue Nov 29 2022 18:13:16
The Forgotten Borough is being remembered by the city in the form of three new homeless shelters planned to open in early 2023. The idea of Staten Island housing these shelters began during Mayor Bill de Blasio's campaign in 2017 as part of his“Turning the Tide on Homelessness in New York City" project. While the opening of the sites has faced numerous delays, they are soon to be reality.
Mayor Eric Adams has taken up the mantle of his predecessor, explaining that his aim is to establish homeless shelters in a more equitable way as they have been largely concentrated in some of the poorest neighborhoods of New York City. According to Mayor Adams, “Progress has been made, but for too long, certain neighborhoods have gone with too few of these critical supports while others carried far more. Going forward, we will work closely with our partners in the council to prioritize equity, transparency and need when siting more shelters because all New Yorkers — and all neighborhoods — have a role to play in ending homelessness.”
A spokesperson from the mayor's office stated that the city provided maps to members of the City Council that show the distribution of shelters in different neighborhoods during their recent meeting. When asked how these neighborhoods were being defined or if the maps would be made available for public viewing, the spokesperson did not respond.
The planned buildings are divided via intended inhabitants. The Stapleton shelter will be at 119 Tompkins Avenue, the former site of Staten Island's New York Foundling Hospital. This site will hold up to 100 men. In Tompkinsville, the building will be at 44 Victory Boulevard, near Bay Street. (The new address the city has created for this building is 1 Van Duzer Street) This shelter is intended to house 200 families with children, or approximately 500 people. The third site will be at 1055 Hylan Boulevard in Grasmere; that shelter will house 50 women over the age of 50.
Opposition against the shelters has been strong and the plans have faced vocal pushback from both elected officials and community members. All three sites are being constructed "as-of-right". Essentially as-of-right, in terms of zoning regulations, allows the use or development of property without obtaining approval through a variance or a special permit. If the planned use is going to be done in a manner consistent with zoning laws, the owner is not obligated to obtain a variance because the development does not conflict with zoning laws.
But zoning laws are not the heart of Staten Island's resistance to the planned shelters. The mayor's office has not made clear how the shelters' vetting process will work in regard to the shelters' residents. Many homeless individuals have substance abuse issues and/or mental health conditions along with a history of criminal offenses. While these issues may be the reason they ended up living on the street, the measures to maintain their safety and the safety for surrounding residents has not been made clear. It has also been pointed out that the Tompkins Avenue shelter is surrounded by three neighborhood schools.
Underpinning proponents of the Staten Island shelters is the concept of "fair share" - this is a formal part of the city charter that tries to equitably distribute public facilities city-wide. It poses the question of whether neighborhoods are being asked to be responsible for more than is fair to their residents. And while the answer may seem easy, it begs this question: does one community absorb more of the shelter system because their inhabitants are poorer and therefore more likely to be homeless? And how do you weight fairness? Is it the concerns of neighbors worried about their quality of life or the plight of homeless families living on the street, some of whom may have children?
Lawsuits brought against the city regarding the shelters have been unsuccessful thus far. When faced with similar strenuous opposition for plans to build shelters in the Morris Park area of the Bronx and two shelters in Chinatown, Mayor Adams cancelled their construction. Despite Staten Island having the lowest homeless population in the city, it does appear that plans for the Staten Island shelters will be carried out.