By Chriss Williams
Homeless individuals sleeping outside of 26 West 17th Street are being sent a clear message: not welcome. Community Board 5 approved the building’s application to install an overhead security grille over its front recessed entrance to deter the presence of sidewalk dwellers on Thursday, Feb. 13.
CB5’s Landmarks Committee Chairperson Layla Law-Gisiko told the board that the applicant was requesting the grille due to its popularity as a site for the homeless to gather. The Beaux-Art building is a protected landmark in the city’s Ladies Mile Historic District, and the board’s approval is a recommendation to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, who will make the final ruling.
No evidence of a homeless encampment exists presently but employees of one of the building’s storefronts, Charles P. Rogers — ironically a company that makes beds — told The Villager that in the past they’ve had to step over groups of individuals to open the store in the morning but for the most part are on friendly terms with the neighborhood’s street homeless population. The landlord reportedly reviewed other options to deter sidewalk dwellers, such as security lights before settling on the grille.
In a 2018 CB5 statement supporting Mayor de Blasio’s 2019 budget proposal to increase homeless services, the board acknowledged that its community was a frequent, visible destination for homeless people and was committed to seeking solutions.
This is not the first time such “hostile architecture” has been used before. Last week, Gothamist reported that the Metropolitan Transit Authority removed the backrests of platform benches to deter homeless individuals from sleeping inside the West 4th Street subway station.
CB 5’s decision comes in the wake of the city’s “re-commitment” to ending homelessness. In December, Mayor de Blasio announced a “six-point action plan” to end street homelessness by 2024, two years after he will have left office. Last month, New York City City Council Speaker, Corey Johnson, released a 202-page report entitled, “Our Homelessness Crisis: The Case for Change” and Governor Cuomo proposed doubling the funding in the city’s Homeless Housing and Assistance Program in his 2020 preliminary state budget.