‘Let them stay!’ Community protests decision to turn Upper West Side women’s shelter into one for men

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams joined Borough President Gale Brewer, Councilmember Mark Levine, Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell, shelter resident Wanda Mercado and Manhattan Community Board 7 Chair Roberta Semer in calling on Mayor Bill de Blasio to stop the displacement of the 120 women resident in the shelter. ( Photo by Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech).

BY ALEJANDRA O’CONNELL-DOMENECH | Upper West Siders shouted “Let them stay!” during a protest on Oct. 6 against the city’s decision to turn a women’s shelter located at on West 107th Street into a shelter for men.

The protest is the latest development in community pushback since news broke about the transition. Last week, Community Board 7 unanimously passed a resolution disapproving the city’s plan. Days later, elected officials including Congressman Jerry Nadler, Borough President Gale Brewer, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, Council Member Mark Levine and Assembly Member Mark Levine sent a letter to DHS Commissioner Steven Banks calling for the department to reconsider the change and allow for the 120 women living in the shelter to stay in the facility.

About 75 neighborhood residents attended a protest outside the shelter Sunday evening, and more than 600 people have signed letters of support to keep the shelter for women.

“The Department of Homeless Services has chosen to completely disregard the success of this women’s shelter,” said Brewer, who added that the communication between the agency, elected officials and the community board about the transition has been extremely poor.

“We need a clear strategy to get people off the street and into permanent housing and here we have that strategy,” the borough president said.

Opponents were careful in making clear that they were not against homeless shelters for men. They instead expressed concern that many of the 120 women will be sent to live in unfamiliar neighborhoods, hours away from their jobs — and could fall into trouble once again.

According to Brewer, one woman will now have to travel two hours in order to get to work from her new shelter.

Wanda Mercado, 45, who lived in the 237 107 Street shelter for 10 months after being forced to leave her NYCHA residence. (Photo by Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech)

“We have a curfew of 10 o’clock,” said Wanda Mercado, who lived in the shelter for 10 months and recently found permanent housing. “There are a lot of policies that we have to follow just to make sure we have a roof over our head.”

At many shelters in the city, residents can lose their beds after repeatedly missing curfew.

Apart of burden of travel, opponents are concerned about the new environments that the women will be sent to. The shelter at 237 107th Street was described as a community where women leaned on one another for support. The community has banned together over the years to help equip the 10-year-old shelter with amenities like an air condition and to clean up the backyard.

At the rally, Brewer stated that she spoke to a shelter resident who now has to travel two hours back to get to work from the new shelter where she has transferred. According to Brewer, at least 14 women have been given 48-hour-notice to pack their bags and leave the shelter. Although some present argued that more had already left.

According to a DHS spokesperson, the agency is choosing to fill the facility with men in anticipation of the colder months when the agency sees a greater need for shelter for single adult men. All 120 men are expected to be in the facility by November.