Dec. 12, 2016 By Christian Murray
Nearly 40 residents who live in an Astoria faith-based housing facility received an eviction notice Nov. 28 telling them to vacate their 46th Street building by the end of the year.
The residents, many of whom have lived in the dorm-style rooms for years, were caught completely off guard and many are unsure where they are going to live.
“The letter essentially said get out,” said Lesley Hilton, a Texas native who has lived at the 31-65 46th Street facility for three years. “The way they are trying to do this is so egregious. I want the world to know about awful this is.”
The residents claim that they are being kicked out by the non-profit owner, the New York School of Urban Ministry, to make way for a homeless shelter. They have been circulating a copy of an e-mail that was sent from Urban Ministry’s attorney, Ira S. Clair, to a resident indicating this was the case.
However, the theory that the facility would become a shelter was essentially debunked Saturday.
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer received an e-mail from the Department of Homeless Services this morning stating that the facility would not be converted into a shelter. The councilman, who had been in discussions with DHS about the facility for the past week, did confirm that a homeless provider had been in talks with the city to use the building as a shelter.
Nevertheless, Van Bramer said, the pressing issue right now is that there are still close to 40 people who may be thrown out on the street by the end of the year. “That is our focus; to stop this tragedy. My hope is that Urban Ministry will rescind these eviction notices.”
The current occupants of the building—excluding two families who live on the first floor–are all single men and women. The men have individual rooms that are all located on the second floor, while the women’s rooms are on the third floor.
The occupants range in age from 18 to 80 years and are all are Christians.
“You have to apply to get in and show you can support yourself as well as have members of the clergy vouch that you are a Christian,” Hilton said. Hilton is currently doing temp work at the Radio City Music Hall.
Each resident pays a dorm fee that is somewhere between $400 and $500 a month, Hilton said. They don’t have a lease and just pay month to month.
“Evicting these people is wrong,” Van Bramer said. The councilman is hosting a press conference with other elected officials outside Urban Ministry’s facility Monday at 1 pm to hammer home the point.
“These residents received word of this for the first time three days after Thanksgiving and were told that they had to be gone after Christmas,” Van Bramer said. “This is heartless,” he said, especially for a religious organization.
Joyce Katchmar, a senior citizen who has lived in the facility for the past year, is concerned as to where she might go if she is thrown out.
She moved into the facility after a fire tore through her Woodside apartment last year. “The Red Cross wanted me to go to shelter in Jamaica,” Katchmar said. “Fortunately, my pastor was able to get me in here.”
Linda Smith, originally for Oregon, said that her friends have told her to find affordable accommodation in Jersey City. “I don’t want to leave this community,” she said. “I love this neighborhood; I know all the children and the dogs, I don’t want to go.”
The women have been handing out fliers in the area in the past week notifying local business owners and residents that a homeless shelter was likely to open. “People have been very thankful for letting them know,” Smith said.
Van Bramer said that when he had heard from the residents of Urban Ministry that it might become a shelter he started investigating the matter.
He said he reached out to Steven Banks, the Commissioner of the Department of Homeless Services, to find out more and to explain that it wouldn’t make sense to open a shelter there.
Van Bramer said that he told Banks that many of the current residents could wind up homeless. “It would just defeat the purpose,” he added.
The councilman is confident that DHS will not open a shelter at that location and will be true to its word. “I have it in writing,” he said.
DHS could not be reached for comment.
Van Bramer said he wasn’t sure whether the potential conversion of the space to a shelter was the primary motive for Urban Ministries to start the eviction process on the residents.
He said that only Urban Ministries could answer that. Urban Ministries could not be reached for comment.