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New Housing for Homeless Women Coming to Jerome Avenue

April 19, 2007

By HEATHER APPEL of the NYCity News Service

If you’re a single woman looking for emergency housing in the Bronx, you have limited options for getting off the street. There are only three intake shelters for single women in the city, and only one of those, the Franklin Armory, is in the Bronx. If all three are full, your next best option is a drop-in center, where there are no beds, so people sleep in chairs — often for up to two weeks at a time.

Soon, 180 women will have access to housing, job training and counseling at Susan’s Place, a new transitional residence scheduled to open in July on 177th Street and Jerome Avenue. Women will be referred to Susan’s Place from all five boroughs.

The 40,000-square-foot building will also include a 24-hour drop-in center for women looking for a safe place to wash their clothes, get a meal or a shower, or start the intake process to be placed in a longer-term shelter.

Susan\'s Place

Currently, the only drop-in center available in the Bronx is the Living Room in Hunts Point, operated by Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB). The Living Room is coed, and men far outnumber women, which can intimidate single women and discourage them from staying overnight, said Noel Concepcion, director of CAB’s street outreach team.

Susan’s Place will be run by the non-profit organization Care for the Homeless, which operated the Kingsbridge Armory women’s shelter until it closed in 2000. The residence is named for Susan L. Neibacher, the founding executive director of Care for the Homeless who passed away in 2004.

Although the organization notes that families with children make up the bulk of New York’s homeless population, representatives of Care for the Homeless say the number of single homeless women is rapidly expanding. Of the over 2,000 single homeless women in the city, many suffer from drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness and physical health problems, and they are often victims of domestic violence, according to a report published by Care for the Homeless.

Not everyone in the community embraced the plans for Susan’s Place. Community Board 5 opposed the proposal, arguing that the neighborhood is already host to numerous drug clinics and homeless facilities.

“You open up your arms in the beginning, but it’s not a good way to stabilize your community after a while,” said Community Board 5 District Manager Xavier Rodriguez.

However, now that the plan is going through, community board members are trying to build a relationship with the people running the facility and make sure community concerns are addressed.

“The board believes they’re going to operate a decent program, but there are certain things that are going to be beyond their control,” Rodriguez said.

Bernice Williams, chair of the Human Services Committee of Community Board 5, reached out to the directors of Susan’s Place to participate in a community advisory council, which held its first meeting March 27. At that meeting, Care for the Homeless Executive Director Bobby Watts and two colleagues fielded questions about loitering, security, and job opportunities for the community.

Watts gave an overview of the amenities and services at the building, which include a full-time doctor or nurse-practitioner, a part-time dentist, a library, computer room, TV room, social services, and educational services. The unique design of the semi-private dormitories, the services offered and the size of the facility make it unlike any other homeless housing that exists in the Bronx.

The facility will provide 88 full-time staff positions, some of which can be divided into part-time jobs, said Watts. At least 30 to 35 will be entry-level positions for program aides, kitchen workers and security staff, according to Care for the Homeless. Watts said he plans to have at least four security staff on site at all times, and those staff will be trained in conflict resolution.

Williams came out of the meeting feeling encouraged about the plans.

“We’re going to stay on top of it, and between us and Susan’s Place, I think it’s going to be a good thing for these women,” she said. “Plus, I love that they’re going to have sensitivity training for the staff — these people need respect in order to lead a productive life,” she added.

As for the community board’s worries about drug use in the area around the building, Watts emphasized that there will be a zero tolerance policy. The women will be screened with breathalyzer and urine tests and could lose their spot if they don’t stay clean. He also said there would be numerous programs inside the building to keep residents engaged and help them successfully find permanent housing when they leave Susan’s Place.

Rodriguez urged Watts to meet with local business owners to head off potential problems with loitering and get their support for the project.

Care for the Homeless say they’re planning to stay in contact with the community and will invite everyone to visit Susan’s Place at an open house on June 28. If all of the work and certifications are completed on time, the site should be taking in women by July 1.

Shooting Leaves One Dead, One Injured

April 9, 2007

One man was shot dead and another was seriously injured outside Kennedy Fried Chicken and Pizza, at E. 162 174th St., in the early hours of Saturday morning, following an argument with another man which started inside the restaurant. Click here for a map.

The dead man, Jose Viera of Eastburn Avenue, was 24. His brother-in-law, an unnamed 17-year-old who was shot in the face, remains in a serious condition in the hospital. No arrests have been made. Police are searching for a lone gunman.

Friends and neighbors of Viera have erected a memorial (pictured) near to where the men were shot. On Monday morning, Manny Ruiz, a friend of Viera’s, came to show his respect. “He [Viera] was never the one to be fighting,” said Ruiz. “He was the one to peace it out, one of coolest guys. He wasn’t a troublemaker.”

- JAMES FERGUSSON

Fire Rips Through Grand Concourse High-Rise; Many Injured

April 9, 2007

A three-alarm fire swept through a 13-story apartment building on the Grand Concourse, Sunday evening, injuring more than two dozen residents and at least ten firefighters. Five people – all civilians – are in a serious condition, say fire officials.

Lobby

The blaze, at 1749 Grand Concourse, started in a first floor apartment at approximately 9 p.m. Patricia Zenon, who lives in a next door apartment, said she heard glass smash. “I opened my door and came out into a wall of blackness.” she said. “I couldn’t see anything, so I came back inside and wet some towels. I was trying to keep my composure.”

Zenon, who was eventually led to safety by a firefighter, said she’d spoken to the woman who rents the apartment where the blaze began. “She said it started underneath her son’s bed,” Zenon said. “First they tried to put it out but ran out in a panic and left their door open. That’s how it spread.”

The flames reached out in the building’s lobby, before licking their way up the stairs and along the corridors. Fortunately, because of fire proofing, few apartments were badly damaged inside.

The fire is not being treated as suspicious. The New York Times reported that a gas explosion was responsible. Zenon and Nilsa Rivera, the president of the building’s tenant association, speculated that an electrical short circuit might be to blame.

Stairs

According to Rivera, the building’s fire alarm hasn’t been working for “nearly two years.” The alarm is supposed to alert the alert the fire department and warn residents. “What’s the point in having it if it doesn’t work?” said Rivera, who took today off work because her front door was burnt to a crisp and no longer locked.

As of 11 a.m., the building’s lobby was still under two inches of water. Several residents gingerly picked their way through the charred corridors to survey the damage. None of the 279 apartments have gas or hot water.

Feeding the Hungry

April 6, 2007

By JAMES FERGUSSON

Hands On New York, a local non-profit, put the “giving” firmly back into Thanksgiving, Nov. 20  when it dished out more than 100 free turkeys to needy Bronx families.

The giveaway, at Fordham Lutheran Church on Walton Avenue, was organized by Haile Rivera, Hands On New York’s founder and executive director. A donation from popular Bronx Bachata crooners Aventura helped pay for the meat. “They came through big time,” Rivera said of the band. Haile Rivera

Hands On New York is run out of Rivera’s University Heights apartment. “We don’t have a space or a budget,” he said. “It’s our hobby, not our job. It’s something we do on the side.”

Still, November was a busy month for the group. When Tropical Storm Noel Noel hit the Caribbean, Rivera sent the word out that they would be collecting toothbrushes, towels, canned food, and the like, which would then be shipped to the devastated town of San Jose de Ocoa, in the Dominican Republic. On Nov. 4, on the sidewalk outside Ocoa Restaurant on East Tremont Avenue, the community helped fill 100 boxes. They are currently on their way to the Dominican Republic. Both Rivera and the restaurant’s owner, Mirtha Rivera (no relation), are from San Jose de Ocoa. Mirtha Rivera’s mother lost her house in the storm.