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Teresa Shen for Spectator

Upper West Side residents say the city is not playing fair with its homeless shelters. A community meeting focused on the conversion of a former hotel and apartment building on 94th Street into a homeless shelter became a condemnation of the city's homelessness policy, after officials from the Department of Homeless Services did not attend. Madge Rosenberg and Barbara Van Buren, co-chairs of Community Board 7's health and human services committee, said that DHS representatives called and canceled their presentation an hour before the start of the evening meeting. "We are angry by the way this community had been dismissed," CB7 member Miki Fiegel said. The room was crowded with locals eager to voice their opinions on local shelters, specifically the single-room-occupancy building on 94th Street, whose tenants are going to be paid by the DHS to move out so that the city can use the building as a temporary shelter. Some said they opposed the shelter because of the potential danger that homeless people in such transitional facilities pose to the neighborhood, claiming that the residents will be largely unsupervised. Ben Wolinsky, an Upper West Side resident who tutors local children, said he was worried about the proximity of the building to schools. "There's a reason why all the gates at Teachers College are locked," local resident Robert Josman said. More broadly, residents said that their neighborhood is already bearing more than its share of the burden of the city's homeless population. Many protested the lack of a "fair share" survey to show the uneven distribution of supported housing communities throughout the city. "We seem to be a repository for DHS," Rosenberg said. Locals were incensed by the statistics presented by Aaron Biller, president of the block association Neighborhood in the Nineties. He said that 21 percent of supportive housing communities in the city are located on the Upper West Side, where there are 1,078, compared to the Upper East Side's 93. "There is a socioeconomic pattern of classism, racism, whatever you want to call it. Some areas are getting a free ride," Biller said. "Every time the city gets into a crisis, they come here." Van Buren suggested a community advising board for DHS, an idea met with applause. "They [DHS] have not clearly communicated or outlined their strategy to support this community," Upper West Side resident Darrin Swan said. "What about the Upper East Side? It's time to spread it around the city." The committee passed a resolution opposing the 94th Street SRO becoming a shelter, and the resolution will be voted on by the full board at its February general meeting. This wasn't the first time this proposed shelter had caused controversy. Earlier this month, local politicians gathered in front of the 94th Street building, formerly the Hotel Alexander, and called for a stop to the conversion—a result of a $7.9 million contract between DHS and the nonprofit Samaritan Village, which serves the homeless and addicted. "There needs to be a balance between property value interests and recognizing that people need a place to live," Upper West Side resident Itzhak Epstein said. gina.lee@columbiaspectator.com

homeless shelter Department of Homeless Services Community Board 7
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