A ‘low-barrier transitional housing program’ for the homeless is scheduled to open on the Upper West Side in April, and in a rarity, it is gaining community support as a safe way to get homeless people off the streets.
The shelter, run by nonprofit Safe Haven, will be located at 106-108 West 83rd Street, between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues.
In a Community Board 7 subcommittee hearing on February 28, Safe Haven staff and members of the Department of Social Services discussed the new shelter with members of the local community and actually managed to gain a 5-0 margin of approval of their plans.
Safe Haven provides medical care and substance abuse referrals, mental health care, benefits assistance, and self sufficiency skills to homeless persons who have been living outdoors. Unlike traditional city shelters, it is open 24/7 to the population living there, meaning they are not forced outdoors during daytime hours.
The housing program will serve all genders with men and women housed on separate floors. A team will engage with people living out in the elements and help settle them in Safe Haven.
“The beautiful thing that I’ve found is that [to] the people who are most persistent in not wanting to leave the street, you say Safe Haven, they know what that is, and they think that’s a good thing,” stated Shelly Fine, a leader in Community Board 7.
One community member asked, “How does [Safe Haven’s] response scale to a potentially dangerous situation?”
Safe Haven’s Erin Madden responded, “We have systems of communication throughout the building so staff even as they’re moving around, not at a desk, can contact staff sort of immediately. Our staff will also have Narcan available for individuals who may be experiencing an overdose.”
“We also have clinical staff who are on call 24/7 so if there is a situation that is escalating that requires a more sophisticated response, we have staff that are available to speak with our residential aides to provide them some additional guidance.”
The response from the community was largely positive. One community member named Allison stated in the meeting, “I am so glad there will be a new Safe Haven on the Upper West Side. There are folks sleeping outside right around the corner from my apartment, and I’m so relieved to know they will have a safe alternative in just a few months. Feeling newly proud to be an Upper West Side resident.”
However, not all community members are so enthusiastic. After a recording of the CB7 meeting was shared on YouTube, one comment under the video read: “You are absolutely out of your mind. That place has already had a couple of murders, drug deals occur on the Columbus corner. School kids–young teenagers–spill out to the very steps of that building. Pre-school kids play right in front. Your idea is good but your execution is absolutely dangerous and colossally stupid.”
City Council member Gale Brewer was generally supportive although said she wished there had been more advance notice from Breaking Group, which will operate the home for Safe Haven. “People in safe havens are generally older and pretty low-key, they’re glad to be off the streets, they’re glad to have a bathroom,” Brewer said during Tuesday’s community board meeting. “With a really active community group, this can be successful, but that has to be part of what we’re doing.”
The Safe Haven home, at the site of what was a homeless men’s shelter until 2021, is expected to house over 100 people in one, two and quad bedroom arrangments. On Twitter, Brewer said. “I am concerned about the number of beds in each room at this new safe haven. I urge Breaking Ground (the provider for the safe haven) to limit it to one or two beds per room instead of four.”