“Fear aside, will our city recognize health care as a human right? If these sick people can’t be placed in a hospital campus, then where else can they go?”
At a public hearing on July 19 at Maestro’s catering, a loud, rude, and angry crowd made their opposition to the city’s “Just Home” project loud and clear. The proposal would construct 70 units of supportive housing for homeless New Yorkers coming out of jail, in a building located on NYC Health + Hospitals/Jacobi Hospital Center’s campus in The Bronx.
The elected officials confronted at this meeting went along with the crowd’s opposition and their demands even before Fortune Society, the project developer, and NYC Health + Hospital made their presentation and answered any questions, which were few.
Deep down, I believe many among this crowd would come to the assistance of someone in immediate need or danger, yet some of their underlying racist and classist undertones voiced would cast doubts on my belief. Much of their vitriol is fueled by a campaign of misinformation and fear for political expediency by opportunists filling the leadership voids.
The lack of leadership from the community board and our elected officials on this issue has opened the door to that misinformation, and to fear mongering with innuendo of threats. The vice chair of Community Board 11 posted on its official Facebook page that project opponents should get the addresses of the Health + Hospitals board of directors and visit their homes. Others have stated and posted inaccurately that the site will be a homeless shelter or a jail without curfews.
Other opponents are adopting a “no dumping in The Bronx” narrative, yet Bronx CB11 is one of the few community districts in the city with no open homeless shelter, and fewer than 75 affordable units where built in the last 10 years in the Pelham Parkway and Morris Park Community. Bronx Community Board 11 has not borne its fair share, and 70 apartments is minimal compared to other boards citywide.
Just Home is NOT proposing a jail or a shelter. Its proposal is to develop the unused “Building 2” on Jacobi Hospital’s campus for permanent supportive housing consisting of about 70 studios, each with a bathroom and kitchen. The eligible clients will be homeless and formerly incarcerated or pre-trial detainees from Rikers Island with complex medical needs, like stage-4 cancer, end-stage renal disease and congestive heart failure. A few studios will be set aside for affordable housing with first preference to CB11 residents.
Several of the project’s opponents were also against Destination Tomorrow, a supportive housing program at 2134 Barnes Ave. on Pelham Parkway to support victims of sexual violence and sex trafficking in the LGBTQ community. At the time, these same opponents stated the children in the school across the street would be targeted and there would be open prostitution. In fact, this supportive housing keeps their clients safe from sex trafficking and has provided space for community meetings. Fortune Society has provided programs and space for its surrounding community in Harlem and would do so as well for the community around Jacobi Hospital.
Each one of us can recognize the opponents’ fear of the unknown, and of change. But if we focus on the facts, the Just Home proposal makes all of us safer: permanent homes with supportive services for clients with criminal justice history can break the cycle of homelessness and incarceration. These clients have complex medical needs, and their focus would be on healing.
The selected developer and manager, The Fortune Society, has operated for 55 years and opened a comparative project in 2010 called Castle Gardens in Harlem, with 114 apartments. The local community board stated the residents and Fortune Society have proven to be an asset to the neighborhood. The Just Home proposal is smaller, and there will be 24/7 front desk coverage with cameras inside and outside the building.
Fear aside, will our city recognize health care as a human right? If these sick people can’t be placed in a hospital campus, then where else can they go?
Community Board 11 will hold a public meeting on the Just Home proposal on Thursday, Sept. 29 at 7 p.m. at the Jacobi Medical Center Rotunda (to the right of Building 4), 1400 Pelham Parkway South. Criminal justice, housing and health care advocates are welcome and needed.
Roxanne Delgado is a member of Friends of Pelham Parkway.