Meeting Scheduled to Discuss Homeless Shelter

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Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Robert Hess will be meeting with community groups and elected officials April 8 to discuss the controversial transitional at the West Side Inn Hostel, at 237 W. 107th St.

Questions and concerns have only grown since Hess announced a March 2 compromise that killed plans for a full, 135-bed shelter for homeless women, but allows as many as 80 individuals to stay until November.

The meeting will be held Thursday, 7 p.m. at Church of the Ascension on 221 W. 107th St. between Amsterdam Avenue and Broadway.

Help USA, a nonprofit that has been administering services to department clients staying there since February, will continue to work at the site. Currently Mark Hersh, the building owner, is in charge of building security and maintenance. But West 107th Street residents and civic leaders want the nonprofit to take over those responsibilities because of Hersh’s history of building violations and allegations of tenant harassment.

The hostel also has a number of open violations from Housing Preservation and Development and the Department of Buildings.

“We’re asking that [Department of Homeless Services] work something out with Help USA to run the place fully until the end of November,” said Rev. John Duffell, pastor at neighboring Church of the Ascension and frequent critic of the proposal. “Basically, we’re concerned with women who are there, and during their time there, are treated with dignity and respect.”

The meeting is likely to include details on a neighborhood advisory board that would play a role in planning for local homeless services. , chair of , envisions a 15- to 20-member board to represent neighborhood stakeholders, such as block associations, businesses, elected officials and local service providers.

“We need to examine that process [of emergency homeless housing] and put in systems that work for everyone,” Wymore said. “Set up a system where we really prevent homelessness as much as we can and handle it effectively when it happens.”

Meanwhile, two bills were introduced in the City Council that would have an impact on transitional homeless housing, if they become law.

Earlier in March, a bill was introduced that would force the Department of Homeless Services to notify the community when transitional housing for clients is established. When such a site is created or expanded, the department commissioner would be required to inform the Council member who represents the neighborhood, the Council speaker and the local community board. The notification would have to include the number of people being housed, the name of the person or entity that would be operating the transitional housing and any service providers.
This legislation, currently in the General Welfare Committee, has 14 sponsors, including West Side Council members Melissa Mark-Viverito and Gale Brewer.

Mark-Viverito, who represents the neighborhood with the West 107th Street shelter, is also planning on reintroducing a 2009 bill that bars building owners with at least three tenant-harassment violations from receiving city funds, or from having people placed in their property by city agencies.

Updated March 24.

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