The city unveiled a plan this week to house 108 vagrants — without background checks — in a new homeless shelter across from a school on the Upper West Side.
The move has outraged parents who had no clue about the looming arrivals.
Non-profit Breaking Ground’s “safe haven” transitional shelter is set to open next month at 106-108 West 83rd Street off Columbus Avenue, directly across the street from the PS 9 schoolyard.
Residents will not undergo criminal background checks, and can stay as long as they want, the group and city officials said at a Zoom meeting this week.
“I foresee fighting, I foresee public drinking and drunkenness. I foresee a lot of bad stuff, and that’s not just me holding my pearls — that’s just the reality,” said Kenna Kolaitos, 45, mother of a 6-year-old daughter in kindergarten at PS 9, and a 10-year-old daughter in fifth grade at MS 243 Center School, which is housed in the same building.
The lack of a background checks is terrifying, Kolaitos said.
“We don’t know what type of unhoused individuals [are moving in]. Are they pedophiles? Are they murderers? Do they have any criminal background? Or are they just unlucky and don’t have a place to stay?” she said.
Tae Lee, whose daughter is a third grader at PS 9, had no clue a shelter was on the way. “I have concerns of course because my kid goes to school here. … It doesn’t make sense.”
Maria Gonzalez, who does pickup and dropoff with her 8th-grade grandniece and 4th-grade grandnephew at the school, railed, “Let them find another place — why don’t they go to Fifth Avenue or Park Avenue with these shelters? Why do they have [possible] sex offenders living across the street [from a school]?”
Businesses are also wary.
A staffer at Zingone Brothers grocery store said that in the aftermath of the terrifying January slaying of a 74-year-old woman in the neighborhood, residents can’t deal with any more bad apples.
“The feeling is that nobody wants it,” Ricardo Zingone, 58, son of owner, Nicholas Zingone said, adding that the slaying “scared the sh-t out of everybody, and now there’s this adding to that and it’s just adding fuel to the fire.”
The troubling details emerged Tuesday during a two-hour Zoom meeting with the provider and city reps from the Department of Social Services and Department of Homeless Services hosted by Community Board 7’s Health & Human Services Committee. The meeting was ripped as a “sham” by angry area residents who couldn’t voice their disapproval.
“They ramrodded it, railroaded us,” said Maria Danzilo, a community activist and lawyer who was on the Zoom call. “They did everything possible to hide the fact that this shelter was coming to the neighborhood — across the street from a school playground,” said the former state Senate candidate.
“There is no vetting whatsoever and it’s three doors away from where Maria Hernandez was murdered,” Danzilo said, referring to the 74-year-old found bound and gagged in her apartment in January.
The facility is being funded by a budget allocation from Mayor Adams, part of a larger $171 million program he announced in April. The exact figure was not disclosed.
It will serve residents directly referred by “outreach teams who have been building rapport” with the vagrants, the officials said. The plan is to fill 80 beds over the the first few months and the remaining 28 beds this summer.
Unlike most shelters in the city, this one is considered a “safe haven,” which is less restrictive than traditional shelters and has a “low-barrier” admission process — without preconditions like documentation of homelessness or established sobriety.
“Every client is unique. The main qualifier is that these are individuals who are sleeping outside and that’s the only referral criteria that we have,” said Erin Madden, vice president of programs at Breaking Ground.
Equally galling was how CB7 committee chair Shelly Fine allegedly “selectively filtered questions and comments” during the Zoom meeting, and made it into a webinar so it would appear that everyone supported the plan,” those who attended charged.
“The public was invited to speak, which didn’t happen. … Comments critical of this project were skipped over. They tried to sneak it in. There must have been hundreds of people who wanted to talk,” said attendee Wendy Blank, 77. “The biggest opponents are parents.”
Councilmember Gale Brewer cheered the shelter at the meeting, called its residents “pretty low key” and claimed she’d spoken with neighboring schools and businesses about it.
“I did contact the principals, there are two schools there, certainly Center School and PS 9, and in addition, active people on the block,” Brewer said.
But on Friday — as outrage snowballed — she told The Post: “Breaking Ground could have done more to involve the community and officials earlier in the process. I didn’t hear about it until just before the community board meeting.”
Community Board 7’s Health & Human Services Committee unanimously passed a resolution in support of the plan. The full board votes on Tuesday.
The uproar comes less than three years after 300 homeless men were placed in the Lucerne Hotel on West 79th Street – causing complaints of brazen drug use and public masturbation to surge in the affluent neighborhood. The saga ended in June 2021 when an appellate court ruled that the city could move forward to relocate the last group of homeless men, who returned to traditional shelters.
“No one with a [sex offender] residency restriction will be allowed at this site,” Patrick Bonck, a Breaking Ground spokesman, said Friday night. He did not respond to further queries as to how they could ensure compliance without background checks.
Said the city Department of Social Services: “We remain committed to maintaining open lines of communication and working closely with the community to address any concerns as we collaboratively work to serve and support some of our most vulnerable New Yorkers.”