Life for homeless women in the South Bronx just got worse. Last month, the 107 women living at the Kingsbridge Armory assessment center were cleared out to make room for a new shopping mall and sports complex. Most of the residents were sent to a new center opened by the city’s Department of Homelesss Services at the Franklin Armory–where conditions, residents say, are not as good. Plus, it’s a bear to get to: The trip requires transferring from a subway to a bus, and then a trek several blocks uphill.
Kingsbridge, in the northwest Bronx, was one of the city’s three intake shelters, where all newly homeless women stay for about six weeks until they are moved into permanent housing. The shelter was well regarded–it was easy to get to, and one of the best-run in the system. But in April, DHS announced Kingsbridge would be closed on June 30, and its residents transferred to Franklin.
Advocates for the homeless questioned the move, since the the city’s only other assessment centers are in Brooklyn and Jamaica, Queens. “Accessibility for women in the Bronx is not what it used to be,” said Gloria Nussbaum, executive director of the Association of Service Providers for Homeless Adults. “Our sense is that it’s in a more dangerous neighborhood, especially for women clients,” said Patrick Markee from the Coalition for the Homeless.
Residents report that the Franklin shelter is not as well-run as the one at Kingsbridge. Some complain about rats and roaches–which they say they never saw at Kingsbridge–inedible food and irritable security guards. They also say there are only two phones available, and laundries are inadequate. “No one had a choice about where it was going to be opened,” said Pat DeLouisa, assistant director of Homeless Services at the Salvation Army. She added that the Salvation Army plans to work with the city to make Franklin as good as it can be.
Meanwhile, nothing seems to be happening at the Kingsbridge Armory. Earlier this year, the city announced that RD Management, a national retail center developer, would build a $80 million sports and entertainment complex on the site. The city’s Economic Development Corporation, which oversees the building, plans to do $30 million in asbestos removal and roof repairs, making the site “more attractive to the developer,” according to an EDC spokesperson.
But staff members from the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition–a community based organization who proposed over a year ago that the Armory house badly needed school space–and an Armory security guard both confirmed that, a month after the shelter’s close, construction has not begun. And it could take over a year for the project to be approved.
Critics say the construction might not have even affected the shelter, and they accuse the city of ignoring viable alternatives. Ronn Jordan, a NWBCCC member, said, “Now that he [the Mayor] wants a shopping mall there, I guess it wouldn’t be too attractive to have a homeless shelter.”