Since 2012, the Peter Jay Sharp Center for Opportunity in East Williamsburg has provided 400 beds to formerly homeless or incarcerated men enrolled in The Doe Fund’s “Ready, Willing, & Able” program. The “Men in Blue,” as they’re called, receive paid street cleaning work and housing, as well as vocational training and rehab services. The center is one-of-a-kind in the city. But the recovery of many of these men, as well as the security of the surrounding neighborhood, could soon be threatened, as the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) will be removing 50 of them from the facility at 89 Porter Ave and replacing them with registered sex offenders, Bushwick Daily reports.
Directors at The Doe Fund are up in arms about the pending swap, but their efforts to obtain a temporary restraining order to stop it were denied. “While we pride ourselves in having the best security possible, we are not equipped for sex offenders,” Alexander Horwitz, the Director of External Affairs at The Doe Fund, told Bushwick Daily.
The reason for the swap, according to the DHS, is that the Porter Avenue facility is over 1,000 feet from schools and playgrounds, so it’s technically legal to house sex offenders there. But The Doe Fund argues that this rationale is misguided, and that the presence of sex offenders could pose a threat to the non-profit’s staff, as well as the many young men enrolled in their youth program. There are also many schools and parks just over 1,000 feet away, like Maria Hernandez Park, the Williamsburg Charter High School, and PS 123, not to mention thousands of young men and women living and working in Bushwick. Figuring out where and how to house registered sex offenders in a way that won’t disturb neighbors is never easy for city governments, but it’s clear that displacing homeless men from a recovery program is far from an ideal solution. “DHS has failed to invest in solutions for sex offenders and is now attempting to quietly disperse them into the community. We will not allow that to happen,” Horwitz said.
The DHS decision is especially concerning in the wake of two brutal crimes committed by ex-cons in the neighborhoods in which they were housed in homeless shelters. In April, in Kips Bay, Manhattan, a homeless ex-con was charged with raping a 23-year-old woman in a bar just three blocks from the shelter where he was staying. Later that month, in the Bronx, an ex-con was arrested for the murder and attempted rape of the manager of the homeless shelter where he lived.
“The people [The Doe Fund serves] have been deprived of economic opportunity their entire lives,” Horwitz said. “That deprivation has led to either homelessness or prison. The difference between the population we know how to serve–and serve well–and sex offenders is profound. We do not have psychiatrists on staff, we have no experience treating or managing sex offender issues.”
Men enrolled in the residential work program have been protesting the move, both at Mayor DeBlasio’s home and at the DHS headquarters. The fate of the displaced men is uncertain; most likely, they’ll be housed in a “three hots and a cot”-style shelter, one that offers very few social services and doesn’t provide the rehabilitation support that The Doe Fund does. “These men are in the middle of a year-long program that includes paid work, vocational training, classes on everything from financial management to fatherhood, and job placement services,” Horwitz said. “Their recovery from poverty and homelessness is about to be utterly ruined. It’s an absolute disgrace.”
The Doe Fund is urging surrounding community members to help them fight the City’s decision by signing an online petition.
[via Bushwick Daily]