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Homelessness In Yonkers Pt. 2: City Shuts Down Services For Homeless

Part Two in the series on Homelessness in Yonkers

[Editorial Note: If you have not read part one yet, click here to check it out]

Before the city of Yonkers started shutting down services for the homeless themselves it tried other methods. Allegedly, at meetings for years the city’s development commissioner Wilson Kimball had pressured Saint John’s Church (their landlord) to close them down. Once she reportedly turned to the (now former) priest and said “why don’t you just cut their lease.”

The city and county agreed to relocate the headquarters of Sharing Community by the end of 2017. But the city would not wait, nor would be content with only moving the headquarters building.

Last winter the city tried to shut down Sharing Community’s Broadway Manor facility, which had both a drop-in of mostly women and transitional housing beds by alleging fire code violations. For awhile the clients had to be vanned to other drop-ins, but in the end it wasn’t shut.

The transitional housing beds were some of more than 40 the county cut this year, reducing their numbers by half. While I believe the cuts were budget related, city pressure could have played a role as most of them were in Yonkers.

Over the summer, the city tried to pressure social services to move the homeless, claiming that Yonkers has a disproportionate amount of drop-in clients. This is untrue. They also allege the drop-ins had more clients than they were contracted for. This is true. Most drop-ins in the county are over capacity because the county turns people away  from it’s actual shelters. But Yonkers at about 80 clients is well under half of the county’s total. New Rochelle has about 80 people  despite being contracted for a 27 bed facility.  Open Arms in White Plains takes up to 50 despite being contracted for 14, a non-county run drop-in in Mount Kisco takes 30. Peekskill has a small drop-in and White Plains has another small one for women. As a result of Yonkers claims, 20 individuals are being bused nightly to New Rochelle and White Plains despite the fact that the New Rochelle drop-in, Oasis, is not only overcapacity, but has actual severe safety issues including bedbugs.

This September, after two public incidents involving the homeless, the city temporarily shut down the men’s drop-in, now being run out of Sharing Community’s headquarters at St. John’s church. Besides the capacity issue, they claimed that there was no permit to house drop-in clients there, but the city shut down the actual drop-in location in 2014 (because it was in a church in a residential district, Yonkers zoning code prohibits them from having social services), and getting a permit is pretty much impossible. As a result several men spent a night sleeping outside on cots through a rainstorm. It attempted to again shut the women’s drop-in as well, raiding it twice during the night to check for code violations.

The city states that there are no certificates of occupancy, as I mention in my last article Sharing Community apparently has trouble getting them. The city also said that there were fire code violations, and that Broadway Manor is “inhumane” condemning the building as they had done to Gospel Mission. As someone who has both slept at Broadway Manor, and seen actual inhumane shelters I have some problems with this.

First of all they have pictures, but many of them seem to have been taken on the now empty upper floors, not where people stay

Secondly, according to the court documents; they gave the North Broadway site a social service organization special permit over the summer and the zoning code states that this cannot be done if a building is unsafe.

As part of a statewide initiative; the state comptroller inspected 9 Westchester shelters. I believe he inspected the Sharing Community, and every shelter he visited was rated adequate except for Oasis and Westhab’s Coachman Shelter which were rated very poor. And the audit pulls no punches.

Another problem with blaming Sharing Community for safety issues is that the buildings landlord is apparently responsible for some of the maintenance.

The biggest issue is that in 2014, when the day program was closed I asked Development Commissioner Wilson Kimball, if other buildings used by Sharing Community had violations. She said “as far as we know, there are no other issues with the sharing community other than the ones they are currently working to correct.” Of course that year no one had said anything about North Broadway.

A court order is keeping the Broadway Manor drop-in open, and the county also took over its lease so it will be for one thing, exempt from city zoning laws. The city has backed off the headquarters drop-in for now probably because many of it’s clients are being vanned elsewhere despite the fact that most of them are Yonkers residents.

The Sharing Community is located in the middle of an area again undergoing a major “development push.” Local “stakeholders” who want redevelopment have been major pushers of closing the shelter. The 2014 minutes of the Thursday Lunch Club, one such group read: “The opinion was expressed that development opportunities are not being taken advantage of because of the homeless situation.” and “One of the goals to improve the downtown area is to relocate the Sharing Community by 2017.”

Sharing Community is definitely not perfect. While most are nice, several of it’s lower level employees could be more respectful to clients. Around 2012 it had financial problems that resulted in the departure of several key staff members, but since 2013 the current executive director has kept it running smoothly, and it does the best it can with the funding it has. And anyway, the city is not interested in finding another provider, just not having one.

I was approached recently by a homeless man claiming that a police officer kicked him when he refused to move from where he was sitting. It is worth noting that I have no proof of the validity of such claims, but I believe him. The YPD has already been investigated for brutality by the Justice Department.

If these shelters close, the homeless will not go away, rather they will be housed on your sidewalks and porches, and stoops.

 

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About Laura Case (4 Articles)
Laura Case is a writer, activist, and peer-advocate on issues concerning homelessness in Westchester County, New York. She stays on and off at a drop-in shelter. Laura also writes for Daily Kos, Talk of the Sound, Medium and more.
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