Sunset residents hold protest outside homeless shelter

December 8, 2015 Jaime DeJesus
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They want answers!

A group of Sunset Park residents rallied outside of the Sleep Inn Hotel, 247 49th Street, to voice their concerns and displeasure with the decision by the New York City Department of Homeless Services (DHS) to convert the building into a men’s homeless shelter.

The rally, hosted by the Village of Sunset Park on Saturday, December 5, included local residents who are miffed at a lack of communication.

“We are here because of the concerns of the community. The homeless shelter came without any notice at all,” said attorney Christopher Robles. “The first indication that we had was when the community started seeing strange people walking around and the residents asked who they were. When they found out it was a homeless shelter, we asked, ‘How can the city not give us an opportunity to express concerns?’”

Attendees also expressed confusion over the safety of the area, with schools nearby. “I have two daughters and I worry about their safety along with my neighbors’ kids,” said longtime Sunset resident Alexander Morales, who lives just a few blocks away from the hotel.

“This is a residential community. We have schools up the block. Our families live up the block,” added Robles.

“There are so many kids in the neighborhood and we don’t know what kind of people are in there,” added Cresenciano Ortega-Gonzalez.

Because of the lack of communication, many residents have questions about the individuals that are staying in the hotel.

“You have to find out about the people that you’re putting in the shelter and see if they’re drug addicts or criminals,” said Morales, who claimed that since the homeless shelter conversion, he often sees men sleeping in the hallways of his apartment building. “I feel sorry for the situation that they’re in, but the first thing [the city] should’ve done is alert the residents and ask us how we felt about it.”

A lack of security and police presence has also been noticed. “They said they would have security and, as you can see, you have not seen any security or police officer in front of the Sleep Inn. It’s non-existent as far as I can tell,” said attorney and co-council for Village of Sunset Park, Richard Villar.

“We have asked that there be more police protection and they put some police walking around here more often in evening. People here don’t feel safe. The kids feel unsafe,” added resident Yvette Aguirre. “We understand some people need help, but not on a residential block without adding resources. Bring them some counseling. Otherwise, all they’re giving them is a bed.”

Sex offenders on parole or probation with residency restrictions would not be permitted to live at the site, according to DHS. “The facility will have both job training and clinical services to support the shelter residents, and we will have 24-hour security inside and outside the building, making rounds every 30 minutes to ensure safety of shelter residents and the surrounding community,” DHS Press Secretary Nicole Cueto said in an earlier statement.

Most of those who attended the rally say they empathize with the homeless, but want the city to seek different solutions.

“We are all for the families and friends getting help, but it has to be to where they are benefiting as well,” said Wally Alvarez. “You can’t just say that you’re helping a homeless person or family, for that matter, just giving them shelter. There’s much more than that.”

By press time, the DHS had not responded to a request for comment on the rally.

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