West 95th St. Veterans’ Shelter: Did The City Keep It’s Promise?

Did the City lie about placing ONLY low-PTSD veterans at 330 West 95th Street? Social services agencies, Harlem United and Bailey House, both well-regarded providers, face big challenges to deliver the promise of a safe home to veterans. We are asking our neighbors to write or call our electeds to demand results.

95th St Veterans’ Shelter: Did The City Keep Its Promise?

Problems Include Internal Security, Pantry Thefts and Street Begging — and Neighboring Freedom House Shelter
Last year, the City made a promise to create permanent housing for veterans with low-level PTSD, the new Veterans’ Residence at 330 West 95th Street, which replaced half of the Freedom House homeless shelter.

At a recent meeting, the formerly homeless veterans living at the residence expressed gratitude for the chance to call the new residence home, but they also revealed safety problems. The facility is experiencing serious growing pains that require corrections urgently needed to help their transition and protect these veterans.

The problems raised by the veterans and longtime SRO tenants include random, disruptive “roaming in hallways,” random knocking on resident’s doors at 2 AM to demand money, pantry thefts and street begging. Women in the residence complain about being followed and harassed.

While this kind of behavior is common in City shelters, it indicates that the 95th Street facility operators must drastically improve security and do more to transition problem individuals into a stable living situation where boundaries are respected.

While the facility serves approximately 160 veterans taken from the City’s homeless shelters, many of the vets have only moved in over this past summer. Two nonprofit social service agencies, Harlem United and Bailey House, have operated the facility under contract to the City since opening in April.

At a recent meeting of the facility’s Community Advisory Board (CAB), Harlem United CEO Jacquelyn Kilmer gave assurances that the facility is screening out pedophiles and violent felons. Ms. Kilmer denied knowledge of City promises to only house veterans with low-level PTSD. Prior to the meeting, our neighbors had been hearing stories that some newer move-ins may have severe mental health issues.

However, the picture presented to the public last December by various City agencies, including the Mayor, City’s Veterans Department, Department of Homeless Services (DHS), Human Resources Administration (HRA), plus Harlem United and Bailey House was that this facility would be permanent, affordable housing for low-level PTSD veterans.

Bailey House is hiring a specialist in helping formerly homeless shelter residents cope with the need to respect boundaries and other aspects of living in a more permanent setting.

Some question why this specialist is being hired now, after problem residents are assigned rooms, and the opportunity to instill the right guidelines from day one has been missed.

Bailey House promises to improve their “vertical” hallway patrols to address safety. They are trying to find ways for residents to securely store their food items to combat theft by other residents, a top complaint aired at the CAB meeting.

The N90s community must keep in mind that transitioning homeless populations to a more permanent living arrangement is an extended process.

The bright light in the meeting came from the veterans themselves.

While expressing gratitude for their new quarters, they made constructive suggestions, worthy of their military training. They suggested creating a team leader on each floor.

They also urged that the operators address what one veteran described as vets who “are out panhandling in front of the 96th Street train station and Chase Bank on Broadway the day after they get their checks.”

One consistent complaint at the meeting was about the building next door, Freedom House, 316 West 95 St., a homeless shelter.

The veterans complained that their neighbors “were out of control.” They reported open drug dealing, panhandling, loitering and noise from Freedom House residents. Harlem United and Bailey House execs said privately that the “shelter next door is out of control.” The veterans voiced concern, as did legacy SRO tenant neighbors, that the problems coming out of Freedom House could undermine the comfort and safety they were seeking in their own building.

N90s concurs with their assessment of Freedom House.

The association speaks regularly with SRO tenants in Freedom House. The same issues that we found at our last meeting with the shelter’s management, in 2014, are the same – noise, garbage being thrown into alleyways, boomboxes, TVs, and bottles of urine hurled onto 95th Street. Some shelter residents are panhandling on Broadway, while others are out buying and selling drugs near local schools. Both buildings are across the street from PS 75.

Neighborhood In The Nineties has asked Community Board 7 and Council Member Rosenthal to establish an umbrella CAB for all of the neighborhood’s facilities.

While we expect that the Veterans Residence on 95th Street will improve going forward, multiple facilities nearby are contributing to crime and mayhem, taking full advantage of the absence of community oversight.

We seek the opportunity to make our community safer for all facility residents, and our neighbors, but we need your help:

Please write to Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, gbrewer@manhattanbp.nyc.gov or 212-669-8300/8191, and City Council Member Helen Rosenthal, hrosenthal@council.nyc.gov or 212.873.0282 x200.

Please tell them you are concerned about the drug dealing, panhandling, crime, loitering and noise coming from both Freedom House and some members of the 95th Street Veterans Residence that is impacting our neighborhood. Ask them what they will do to address this issue. Ask them why the City lied about admitting only low-level PTSD veterans?  Ask them if they will support creation of an umbrella CAB for the many facilities in our neighborhood? Community oversight is one of the best ways to keep facility operators accountable and protect everyone’s quality of life.

(Aaron Biller, president of Neighborhood In The Nineties attended the Veterans Residence CAB meeting on Oct. 25th).

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