BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | The providers who will be running a new homeless drop-in center on W. 14th Street hope it won’t even be noticeable. There won’t be anything outside identifying the place. But it’s hoped that the facility will make a noticeable improvement in the lives of those that it serves.
Community Board 2, whose district includes the area between 14th and Canal Streets east of Fourth Avenue/Bowery to the Hudson River, currently contains no government-sponsored facilities for the homeless. This new location, to be known as Paul’s Place, is one of three new homeless sites planned in C.B. 2 — though at least one of the projects is currently facing litigation, and a second might be, as well.
By comparison, Community Board 3, which covers the East Village and Lower East Side, houses more than 1,200 people in homeless shelters.
Paul’s Place is located between Sixth and Seventh Avenues in part of a loft building just east of the Salvation Army building. A gut renovation of the space — that included adding an elevator — is 99 percent complete but some final inspection checkoffs are still pending. The facility is expected to open as soon as March.
Paul’s Place, serving both men and women, will include a 24-hour drop-in center, plus what is known as a “Safe Haven” site. At the former, homeless individuals will be able to drop in at the ground-floor space and get a shower and something to eat. They’ll be able to watch TV and do their laundry in washing machines. There will be a rec area for socializing, as well as a smoking area, with a curfew, on a patio at the rear of the third floor, meant to minimize congregating on the street. There will also be 70 recliner-style lounge chairs that people can sleep in overnight, if they like.
There will be staff on hand 24 hours, including clinical social workers, plus primary medical care and behavioral/psychiatric care personnel. Medical staff will be able to help individuals take their previously prescribed medications. The Paul’s Place drop-in center can serve up to 75 people at once.
In addition, Paul’s Place will have a so-called Safe Haven featuring 24 beds in three units on the building’s third floor. As opposed to congregate-style homeless shelters, these beds will be in individual “rooms,” with walls separating them; though the walls reportedly won’t go all the way up to the ceiling. As opposed to the walk-in center downstairs, the upstairs beds will be filled by homeless persons referred by the city or an outreach organization; it will be a transitional site from which the individuals can hopefully move on to permanent supportive housing. The typical stay at the Safe Haven will be six months.
There will be offices for the facility on the building’s second floor.
Nonprofit services provider
The entire site will be run by the Center for Urban Community Services, which has a 30-year lease on the space. The location will sport dozens of staff, including security.
Douglas James, CUCS chief operating officer, gave an update on the new place’s progress at the C.B. 2 Human Services Committee meeting last week.
James said the W. 14th Street location, which was supposed to open two years ago, was delayed by COVID and associated supply-chain issues. CUCS also had to get approval, which it received, from several existing loft tenants who will continue to live in the building.
He said the de Blasio administration had asked his group to open the facility.
“We were asked to locate a site south of 14th Street by D.H.S. [Department of Homeless Services] some years ago because there isn’t a drop-in or stabilization place in this area,” he noted.
“There won’t be a sign in front,” he said. “We don’t want to have a chilling effect on people using the services. Hopefully, when we get this thing going, it provides a much-needed service.”
James said the aim is that Paul’s Place will be “under the radar” and that locals won’t even be aware of it.
In terms of filling the upstairs beds, it will be done by both D.H.S. and Goddard Riverside, the latter which does homeless outreach for Manhattan from Chelsea south to the Battery.
James said the overall goal of Paul’s Place in serving the homeless is to direct them to permanent housing and then to follow up with the individuals, “so they don’t return to the shelter or the street.”
CUCS was started at Columbia University in the late 1980s. It currently operates 2,500 units of permanent supportive housing and also provides employment services, psychiatric care and primary medical care.
The population that the drop-in center is meant to serve are referred to as “unsheltered homeless” or “street homeless.” As Susanna Aaron, the chairperson of the C.B. 2 Human Services Committee, put it, these are persons “who are reluctant to come inside.”
C.B. 2, which is not required to weigh in on homeless facilities sited in its district, did not write an advisory resolution on Paul’s Place, neither recommending nor denying that it be approved.
‘Lower threshold’ for entry
In an interview with The Village Sun, Aaron said the idea is that Paul’s Place will have a “lower threshold” for entry as compared to, for example, the E. 30th Street Men’s Shelter. In other words, there won’t be a formal intake process — people will just walk right in. Paul’s Place is open to adult men and women but not young people, she said.
Aaron personally supports Paul’s Place.
“It will have a lot of services,” she said of the 14th Street location. “The goal is to get them into the system. A lot of them might not have an ID, so they can’t qualify for S.S.I. [disability benefits].”
The site’s M.O., as she explained it, is “creating relationships and coaxing [the homeless] resistance into receiving care.” She noted this could start with something as simple as giving a person a new pair of shoes, then building on that. The next step could be treating open sores on the person’s feet and so on.
Aaron has toured the facility. She said the 70 recliner chairs give the space sort of an airport waiting-area feeling. However, she clarified, the chairs, while they can be slept in overnight, are not the same as cots.
Gail Fox, a longtime 14th Street resident and activist, said she feels optimistic about Paul’s Place, given the group running it and the fact that locals will continue to be involved in its oversight by means of an advisory group.
“I think it’s a high-quality offering,” she said. “It remains to be seen how it will work. So the jury’s out. The organization that’s going to run it has a good reputation. They certainly seem thoughtful and they have a good track record, so I hope for the best.
“It’s not a traditional shelter. It’s more like, ‘Come in, have a shower. Come in, have a meal. Come in, do your laundry.’ It’s supposed to be a transitional stepping stone. That’s good. With the community advisory board, it should be workable.”
Fox also said the process for Paul’s Place, which saw several years of local outreach, has not been rushed, but instead considerate of the community — “not like the busway,” she noted, “which was rammed down our throat and then made permanent.”
Over the past couple of years, there has been hopeful anticipation in some quarters for the 14th Street Safe Haven / drop-in site, particularly in terms of Washington Square Park and how it could help address the homeless population there. The Village Alliance business improvement district, for one, which covers Eighth Street and Sixth Avenue near the park, is among those eager to see Paul’s Place start offering services.
Yet, at the same time, there definitely has been some concern about the facility. Aaron acknowledged that some residents have been worried about “quality-of-life impacts” from it.
“There was a lot of pushback on the 14th Street shelter,” she admitted. “Some residents are nervous. … When you say, ‘This is a guy who’s been sleeping on the street for three weeks… .’”
Aaron noted that a rabbi who rented a next-door storefront for an after-school program “was concerned about not being able to get kids to come” due to the neighboring homeless site.
Under the city’s fair share criteria, however, it’s incumbent on C.B. 2 to do its part in addressing the homeless crisis, she said.
Fox, too, granted that there has been some local trepidation about Paul’s Place.
“I know when the Good Stuff Diner was still there, they were upset about it because it’s right across the street,” she recalled.
Area is upscaling
One local, who gave his name as William G., told the newspaper he was taking a wait-and-see attitude toward Paul’s Place. He happened to be standing on the sidewalk smoking a cigar in front of the site on Halloween evening as the commotion of the annual parade was winding down nearby on Sixth Avenue. In the TV entertainment field, he has lived on the block for 30 years.
“We only hope that this improves what is going on [with the homeless situation], and we’re doing our part as neighbors,” he said of the drop-in site. At the same time, he pointed out, “The neighborhood has been changing drastically. A lot of new condos, new buildings are moving in. I don’t think that’s what they want here,” he offered of the tony newcomers and their presumed view of Paul’s Place. “But we’re trying to work with it.”
Indeed, the northern corners of the intersection of Sixth Avenue and 14th Street each sport a new luxury residential high-rise building. William G. said his understanding is that a new building is also planned at the intersection’s southwest corner, in which all the storefronts are empty. However, that spot is located within the landmarked Greenwich Village Historic District, so a teardown would seem unlikely.
Other sites and lawsuits
But despite some misgivings by neighbors, it doesn’t appear things have risen to the level of anyone taking legal action to stop the opening of Paul’s Place. That isn’t the case, though, with a planned 90-bed women’s shelter at the Larchmont Hotel, at 27 W. 11th St. Aaron said it’s her understanding that this shelter, which Project Renewal is slated to run, has been stalled by a lawsuit.
“They can’t pull [building] permits” due to the litigation, she noted.
The plan is that the women at the 11th Street site would either already be employed or seeking employment and would transition to permanent housing. C.B. 2 passed a resolution in July 2020 giving its stamp of approval to this shelter.
The third new homeless facility planned for C.B. 2 is a very large, 200-person men’s shelter, with dorm-style group rooms, at 10 Wooster St. a.k.a. 349 Canal St. that would be run by Westhab, a Westchester-based outfit. The building has only ever been used as a garage and would need a major renovation to make it suitable for residential use.
Sean Sweeney, director of the Soho Alliance, said it’s his understanding that a lawsuit is a possibility.
“The residents have raised quite a bit of money to hire, I believe, Randy Mastro,” he said. Attorney Mastro was a deputy mayor under former Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
The Village Sun reached out for comment to Coral Dawson, a C.B. 2 member who is part of a group of neighbors who are concerned about the Canal Street shelter. She confirmed that a lot of money has been raised toward a potential lawsuit, but that a full stop-work order is in effect on the address, plus that there is “no plan” to litigate against at this point. The stop-work order — which cites failure to maintain the building — actually has been in effect since 2010.
Due to the strong community opposition to the Soho shelter, Board 2 — which is generally supportive of the district doing its fair share in terms of homeless facilities — chose not to issue a resolution on the matter.