Community Fights Closure of Homeless Center, Calls DHS Proposals 'Premature'

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The Chief Executive Officer of the Neighborhood Coalition for Shelter (NCS), Anne Teicher, testified today at a City budget hearing to protest the proposed closing of NCS operated shelter, the Neighborhood Center for Homeless People. The Department of Homeless Services wants to incorporate a new homeless service model, however, closing down drop-in centers like the Neighborhood Center for Homeless People is premature and fails to address the comprehensive needs of the homeless community. Community Board 8, which serves the Upper East Side where the shelter is located, voted overwhelmingly in support of keeping the shelter. As the proposed date for closing the shelter, June 30, 2008 draws near, Anne Teicher asks the question, "Where will our clients go?"

We are concerned about the well-being of both our clients and our community

Anne Teicher, chief executive officer of the Neighborhood Coalition for Shelter (NCS), testified today at a City budget hearing, speaking out against a plan to close the Neighborhood Center for Homeless People, located at 237 East 77th Street in Manhattan. The drop-in center is the only facility of its kind on the Upper East Side.

"We are concerned about the well-being of both our clients and our community," Teicher said. "The Department of Homeless Services wants to implement a new service model. It's a good model, but phasing out drop-in centers at this point is premature. DHS has only a few hundred beds available for the entire city. On the Upper East Side alone we serve 800 homeless people a year. Many will fall through the cracks under the new system. Where will they go?"

The Neighborhood Center for Homeless People has a long and positive history. Over 25 years ago a group of religious institutions on the Upper East Side came together to address the growing problem of homelessness in their neighborhood and created NCS. Working with NCS, they opened the drop-in center in 1989 to provide essential services and overnight stays in volunteer-staffed shelters. Today the center's programs have expanded to offer a range of supports that lead to an independent life, such as meals, showers, laundry services, case management, psychiatric counseling, substance abuse treatment, medical services and vocational training.

"The homeless men and women who currently use the drop-in center consider this neighborhood safe," commented an area resident.    "Rather than leave to go to larger drop-in centers, they will simply return to our streets and doorways. Our community is saying 'yes' to helping people in our own backyard, but the city is saying 'no, you can't do that.' It just isn't right."

Community Board 8 agrees and on April 16th voted overwhelmingly to support the continuation of the drop-in center. This is an ironic switch from 1988, when some people in the neighborhood protested the establishment of the center, fearing that it would harm the community rather than help. Since that time residents have undergone a 180 degree shift, now viewing the Neighborhood Center for Homeless People as an asset that helps vulnerable people turn their lives around. Today the drop-in center has the enthusiastic support of all of the neighborhood's elected representatives, many local churches and synagogues and a host of other community groups.

The issues raised by the DHS decision to close the drop-in center go beyond budgetary to ideas about what constitutes sound public policy. As the Rev. Dr. Fred R. Anderson, pastor of the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, a founding institution of the drop-in center, wrote to Mayor Bloomberg, "We sense that the Upper East Side's current situation is only the beginning in the City's overhaul of the homelessness system. Because of this, we feel that communities such as ours, who have critical insights and experience in serving homeless populations, should be given a voice in the decision process, not simply instructed by bureaucratic representatives.

"Our sacred texts challenge 'oppressive statutes [that] turn aside the needy from justice and rob the poor of my people of their right' (Isaiah 10:2). We call on you to reconsider your decision to close this indispensable community resource for our poorest neighbors, and to visit [the drop-in center] personally, since it is only a few blocks from your home."

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