Proposed Shelter in Bath Beach Sparks Community Outrage

Alan Yu checks the location in an effort to get clues on the progress. The lot is empty and most of the signage is gone.

Article and Photo by Karen Wong | December 9, 2021

Le Xian Chen was walking her daughter home from school when she overheard her upset neighbors. They were talking about a letter they got in the mail, notifying residents of plans for building a new homeless shelter in the area. Chen rushed to check her mailbox, but didn’t find anything.

In December of 2020, the Department of Homeless Services announced plans for an all-male, 150-person shelter at 2147 Bath Avenue in Bath Beach, Brooklyn. Replacing a car rental location, the site would become one of 90 shelters that are part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s ‘Turning the Tide’ initiative, which aims to combat homelessness and reduce cluster sites.

Homelessness in NYC has reached its highest levels in recent years since the Great Depression, according to the Coalition for the Homeless. The Bath Beach location was met with much opposition from the neighborhood’s community members and officials, gaining almost 12,000 petition signatures. Community Board 11 members say that the location violates zoning rules and they never gave permission for the building of the shelter in a board meeting. R5 zoning defines homeless shelters as transient hotels, requiring them to receive special permission from the City Planning Commission. However, Article 12 of the NYC Planning Zoning Regulations says that transient hotels, which offer temporary housing assistance, don’t require special permits.

Community members and local officials say that they were not part of the discussion and had no knowledge of these plans until the announcement. Many residents had to find out about the shelter plans through alternative means, and others claim it’s difficult to get updates. “A meeting would have been nice but they didn’t give us that courtesy,” Alan Yu, owner of Family Plus pharmacy, said. Some residents received official letters, while others heard the news from people in the neighborhood or from social media posts. 

The shelter will be run by the Institute for Community Living (ICL), a non-profit that specializes in trauma recovery. Their treatment ranges from those with serious mental illness to substance abuse and developmental disabilities. It is not clear whether the shelter on Bath Ave. will house those with mental illness or substance abuse problems.

Construction has not started yet, but the lack of information is leading to confusion in the community. Residents heard rumors that the homeless occupants would not be allowed inside the shelter during the day, causing an extra wave of panic.

Parents worry for their children, since public schools IS 281 and PS 101 are within walking distance of the shelter. “I don’t want them roaming around our schools. I don’t want them near my kids,” Chen, a mother of two, said. ICL has since denied these claims, saying occupants will be allowed inside the shelter 24/7.

Financial scars left by the COVID-19 pandemic add further concerns. Small business owners fear the shelter will impact their sales negatively. Homeowners say they fear their property value will go down. The Independent Budget Office of the City of New York found that there is a correlation between lower property sales and closer proximity to shelters.

It’s still unclear whether the shelter is indeed being built and who it will serve. In June, Assemblyman William Colton and Councilman Mark Treyger received a letter from the ICL, suggesting that the shelter will serve families instead. A few months later, both elected officials said that the city is considering alternative sites. No official public statements have been made.

Community representatives say that they are not against homeless people, but criticize the location. They believe city-owned property in industrial zones should be used to provide permanently affordable housing. “A shelter model attempts to manage a homelessness crisis rather than actually solve it,” Mark Treyger said in a Facebook post. Community officials point out that they already have neighborhood services available to help residents only a few blocks from the site: Kings Adult Care Center, King David Nursing and Rehabilitation Center and Haym Salomon Home for Nursing and Rehabilitation. While the area has families that may need help, residents believe there is no reason to have an all-male shelter.

While the debate continues, those without housing are left in limbo. “It might not be the best answer, but it’s all some of us have,” said Chris Santin, who lives in his car and works between small jobs. He believes that some shelters are necessary and can work with better regulation. Trying to find other locations would cause further delay when people need immediate help. Santin says he doesn’t know what to think about the controversy, but hopes residents will keep an open mind.

As of December 8, 2021, the city said it is still looking into alternative sites for the proposed 2147 Bath Avenue shelter. The Department of Social Services reports that they also intend to add a shelter at 137 Kings Highway in early 2024, an 18-minute walk from the Bath Ave location.

Assemblyman Colton said that officials again failed to properly notify the residents of that area.