Plans to turn the Bedford Armory building located in Brooklyn’s Northern Crown Heights Neighborhood into the city’s largest intake assessment facility for homeless men have been in circulation since April of 2008 and have since been steadily opposed by neighborhood coalitions. The argument against the intake facility has brought up two majors issues at the intersection of government and community: one is how the city deals effectively with its homeless population and the other is how and where the city places its social service facilities.
According to the Coalition for the Homeless the majority (60%) of homeless men are located in Manhattan. Over the past two years under the Bloomberg administration two major changes have disrupted the way New York City has handled homelessness since the 1970’s: one is the plan to relocate the central intake center from Manhattan to Brooklyn (Crown Heights) the other was a cut to shelters, both faith based and drop-in centers throughout the five boroughs.
Currently there are only six city funded drop-in centers in New York City (compared to the 11 that existed before the Bloomberg administration). Three of the existing centers are in Manhattan, and of the six only three centers are 24-hour facilities (two in Manhattan and one in the Bronx).
Crow Hill Association is a non-profit community organization in Northern Crown Heights that has been organizing rallies, petitions and conversations with government officials in opposition to the plans for an intake at the armory since 2008; one of their largest complaints is that Crown Heights already has a large concentration of social service facilities and is a neighborhood with higher levels of poverty and crime than other parts of the city.
“North Crown Heights already has six times the median number of social service beds in Brooklyn,” said a representative from the Crown Heights Revitalization Movement at a meeting the group hosted in 2009.
Most city owned land is located in the poorest parts of the city; as a result the city’s most impoverished neighborhoods have the highest density of social service facilities (think homeless shelters, methadone clinics and psychiatric centers). To even the distribution of such facilities in 1989 the “Fair Share Act” (197A) was created. According to the New York Department of Planning, under section 203 of the Fair Share Act the City Charter required the City Planning Commission “to adopt new criteria to further the fair distribution of the burdens and benefits associated with city facilities” .
In her book Noxious New York: the racial politics of urban health and environmental Justice Julia Size says that the major problem with the Fair Share act is a lack of knowledge on requirements, policies and planning resources at the community board level and a lack of guidance and direction at the City Planning level.
Plans to repurpose the existing shelter at the Bedford Armory to an intake assessment facility still exist but have been stalled by the efforts of The Crow Hill Association and the Crown Heights Revitalization Movement as the city responds to their rejections and does a review of the Fair Share act.
Meanwhile, the Coalition for Homelessness estimates that New York city has reached the highest level of homelessness since the Great Depression with an estimated 113,553 homeless sleeping in city supported shelters including an all time record of 42,888 children.