Shower Power Addresses Lack of Hygiene Resources for Migrants

The Shower Power team is establishing themselves in Queens at a new location in Ridgewood.

By Iryna Shkurhan | [email protected]

While many organizations are tackling food insecurity, Shower Power is one of the few providing proper hygiene resources to the city’s most vulnerable one shower at a time. 

Since 2017, the nonprofit has facilitated over 5,000 showers to individuals in need through their mobile shower trailers. They have also distributed over 25,000 personal care kits stuffed with necessary toiletries such as toothpaste, deodorant and soap. 

For the thousands of New Yorkers that sleep in a shelter, access to a shower may not be necessarily clean, private or even safe. And for those who sleep on the streets, taking a shower is almost impossible. With self care in mind, Shower Power has been stepping in to provide hygiene resources, and friendship, to anyone in transition to permanent housing.

“Hunger is a major concern, but there’s more to a person. There’s more to their needs, and a lot of places don’t address that,” said Chantal Wallace, a Jamaica native, who joined the organization in 2021. 

Before heading into a freshly cleaned, and ultra private shower stall, a team member hands visitors a freshly laundered towel and a personal caddy filled with cups of toiletries that they  request. New socks, underwear and shirts are also offered up, and gladly accepted by most. 

The shower trailer, and parking lot where it’s located, is ADA accessible.

The city’s homeless shelter population ballooned dramatically in 2022 and reached levels unseen since the Great Depression. Experts attribute the dire crisis to a lack of affordable housing and higher rates of serious mental illness, both of which worsened following the pandemic. Since last spring, 90,000 asylum seekers have arrived in the city and ensued an ongoing struggle to provide adequate housing and resources. 

For its fourth season, which typically lasts eight months, Shower Power landed in Queens for the first time after solely being based in Manhattan. For now, they’re open three days a week in Ridgewood from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. until cold weather will force them to end the season. Last year, they provided free showers up until the second week of November.

Tucked away in the parking lot of Ridgewood Presbyterian Church, the unmarked white shower trailer unassumingly fits three shower rooms with separate entrances, and one larger wheelchair accessible room. These types of trailers have been used in disaster relief, as well as summer camps and music festivals. 

Richard Vernon, the Executive Director of Shower Power for the past year, says that it was a priority to secure a location that was ADA compliant and easily accessible for those in wheelchairs. The church on 70th Ave, with a ramp from the sidewalk leading to the parking lot, fit the bill.  

Dan DeBrucker, the Parish Associate for Community Engagement at Ridgewood Presbyterian Church, heard about their need for a new location through the Supportive Housing Network. The church invited them to use the lot, along with water and electricity to make the shower trailer functional. 

Before moving to Ridgewood two years ago, DeBrucker was a social worker that focused on addressing homelessness and a lack of affordable housing in the Syracuse area. He is also the National Organizer at the Presbyterian Network to End Homelessness. 

“As the community tells us what they’re looking for, we basically don’t say no,” said DeBrucker, who also serves on Community Board 5. “Our best commodity is that we have space.”

When the trailers were stationed in Manhattan, which has a larger concentration of homeless individuals than outer boroughs, they had no issue attracting people. Some days they would even have to turn away shower seekers after serving around 90 people in a single day. But since coming to Queens several weeks ago, they have only had the opportunity to provide a handful of showers. 

The nonprofit provides various free toiletries, as well as new socks and underwear to visitors.

“It’s still in the very early days,” said Vernon, who previously worked in disaster preparedness and recovery with The Salvation Army. “It’s not it’s not like setting up in a busy part of Manhattan. It’s going to take a little bit longer.”

“It always starts like that. But then once that first group comes, then it’s just flooded,” added Luis Melindez, who has been working with Shower Power since 2018. 

The team agrees word of mouth has been the most effective way of bringing in the people that need their services the most, and turning them into regulars. 

“​In this particular area, we’ve been just going everywhere. Any business we see, any place we may see someone that looks like they’re in need of our services,” said Wallace, who oversees community outreach. “We’ve just been going all around handing out cards, flyers, talking to people and just getting the word out that we’re here and we’re looking for people to come.”

But on Friday morning, a group of a dozen migrants from a shelter in Brooklyn walked through the gates of the church’s parking lot led by a volunteer. With lit up faces, the Shower Power team sprang into action. 

While the volunteer took down names, Wallace started pumping various toiletries into disposable cups to fill up the caddies. Melindez guided the men to their private showers and kept track of their time, before cleaning the stall for the next person. Vernon went on the hunt for extra plastic containers where the migrants could store their personal belongings while showing. 

It was a rush that the Shower Power team was hoping for after weeks of low turnout at the new location. 

The migrant men have been sleeping in a temporary shelter at Stockton St. in Bushwick since arriving in the city the last week of June. They say that the location has no showers available to use, and barely functioning bathrooms. 

Since arriving in the city, the men have only been able to take showers at a nearby public pool. But some say that they feel uncomfortable using the showers there out of necessity, instead of related to recreational visits like others. The pool is also located several blocks away from the shelter. 

Souleimane, a 33-year old who arrived in New York from Mauritania last month, shared that his shower in the trailer was great, and much more comfortable than the public pool’s communal showers where he has to pretend he is there recreationally. Prior to his visit to Ridgewood, he was only able to take two showers arriving in the city, and both were at the pool. 

The migrants signed in and selected their toiletries before taking a private shower in the trailer.

“If I knew all your names, I would thank you individually,” said Souleimane through the French speaking volunteer that escorted the group to the site on public transportation. “I would feel comfortable coming here to shower everyday.”

The mutual aid group volunteer, who did not want to be named, is a French teacher during the school year. With some extra time on her hands in the summer, she guided the group to the site since many are still unfamiliar with the city and need translation assistance. 

Sidi, another recent migrant whose journey to New York from Mauritania totaled twelve days, said the living arrangement at the shelter “would be much better” if showers were available on site. While he says that he is grateful for a place to sleep and food to eat, not having a place to maintain proper hygiene is “not a good situation.”

“You know that when you come here, you’re going to be treated well and consistently,” said Vernon. “People show up time after time. Then friendships form, which is part of the idea.”

The Shower Power team says that their organization is about more than just providing showers and toiletries, creating a sense of community where people can return, whether they need the shower or not, is just as important.

“We get attached to the people that come, and it’s not a job for me. We do have relationships with these people outside of our work hours,” said Wallace. “We check on them. We call them, you know the ones that have access to phones, and we make sure they’re doing well.” 

“You get to know their names, their backstories and sometimes they don’t even come here for a shower,” she added. “They just want an ear, and we’re here to provide that for them too, while working of course in serving the ones that do need to take a shower.”

Establishing the necessary trust with the community can be an issue initially. Showering in itself is a vulnerable experience, even more so in public when you need strangers to assist you. And being homeless adds another layer of vulnerability that makes one more likely to experience traumatic events.

“A lot of them are very fearful when we approach them, because of the experiences that they may have had in shelters, or even just people not being nice to them on the streets,” said Wallace. “They’re almost frightful to come, you know, use our services, which is very unfortunate.”

The issue is especially prevalent among homeless women. Wallace recalled that women who would stop by the trailer when it was in Manhattan would feel more comfortable waiting for all the men to finish showering, despite having access to a private shower behind a closed door. 

A study conducted in Florida found that 78 percent of homeless women were subjected to rape, physical assault, and/or stalking at some point in their lifetimes. They also found that physical or sexual assault leads to longer periods of homelessness for victims. 

“That’s why a lot of people don’t like to go into shelters, they’d rather stay outside, as sad as it is,” said Melindez, who heard about shower advocacy when he was coming out of a shelter in Brooklyn three years ago.

Ideally, Shower Power hopes to be able to provide showers year round from a host site that already has a shower space that is underutilized. And their two existing trailers would come in handy during the summer months, when people generally want to shower more. 

“Even now having two trailers is just such a big feat for us. Being able to operate in two locations at a time is amazing because the need is everywhere,” said Melindez. “This is something that needs to be in every borough, with several locations. It’s only up from here.”

In Our Opinion: Jordan Neely Should be Alive

‘I’m tired already. I don’t care if I go to jail and get locked up. I’m ready to die.’”

These were the reported words Jordan Neely said before he was choked to death on the F train.

Neely, before he became the latest emblem of our city’s grapple with mental health and homelessness, was a well-known Michael Jackson performer.

But more importantly, he was a man. He was a person. He was someone in need.

Neely reportedly suffered from mental health challenges in recent years, as his sunny disposition as a performer waned. He had a long rap sheet, having been arrested 42 times. He certainly made commuters nervous on the train with his yelling. But he didn’t deserve to die.

What he did deserve was care and treatment. What he deserved wasn’t a revolving door of incarceration or medical stints that made him no better of a citizen when released. What he deserved was a city that marshaled its immense resources to make sure he could be the best version of himself and not a corpse lying on the cold floor of a subway car or the front page of our tabloids, or a flickering image on the nightly news.

His death has sparked protests across the city, calling for his death to be the last of its kind. And in some darker corners of the city, his death has been celebrated – confusing machismo vigilantism for courage.

Many days, the same scenario plays out differently. An emotionally disturbed person gets on the train, causing some kind of commotion. We nestle into our phones or switch subway cars or just do anything to avoid eye contact. And then we move on with our days.

But that cannot be the answer either – to have the de facto public health policy be wanton indifference to another New Yorker in need.

In the financial center of the richest country in the world, and in the city home to more millionaires than anywhere else on the planet, it is plainly unacceptable and unconscionable that Neely didn’t get the care he needed.

If we want to be serious about public safety, it’s going to take more than increasing the NYPD budget. We need our officials to demand a large influx of federal dollars to revamp our mental health care system – from construction of facilities to more outreach teams and more forms of care.

If we don’t all fight for that, then we are all complicit.

Homeless Committee formed in wake of antics

‘Listen, learn, react,’ CB5 says

By Jessica Meditz

[email protected]

Cooper Rapids Rehousing Center is a 200-bed men’s homeless shelter in Glendale.

In response to the stark impact Cooper Rapid Rehousing Center has had on Glendale and its surrounding residential neighborhoods, Queens Community Board 5 has formed a committee for homeless services.

At the board’s Executive Committee meeting on Nov. 2, they decided the new committee will take an active role in the community, meaning they plan to conduct fact finding inquiries, address concerns of residents, identify problems and find adequate solutions to those problems in collaboration with relevant government agencies and service providers.

At CB5’s monthly public meeting in October, it was noted that over one thousand 911 calls were made from the shelter since it opened in 2020. The shelter, located at 78-16 Cooper Avenue, next to Artistic Stitch, has a population of about 180 men.

Kathy Masi, a Glendale resident and regular attendee of Community Advisory Board meetings held by Westhab, the shelter’s provider, said that the misuse of 911 is draining the already depleted services needed by the community.

She added that she and other community members have tried to form a civil working relationship with Westhab, which was the case for a while — until things took a turn for the worse.

“We spent two years, maybe more, going from a toxic to a nontoxic relationship where these meetings were running beautifully and everything was going nicely, only to find out how much we were being lied to,” Masi said. “It was out of control.”

According to Masi, a local reporter was asked to leave the meeting by Westhab when it took place.

Westhab is required to do community outreach monthly by way of a community advisory board as per their contract with the city — and the provider selects who participates on it.

In late September, CBS News did an exclusive interview with a man residing at Cooper Rapid Rehousing Center at the time, who came forward with what occurs behind closed doors.

The former shelter resident, who remained anonymous, claimed that he had been assaulted on numerous occasions, that both drug use and drug dealing occur inside the shelter and that residents engage in sexual acts in public, behind the shelter.

The man reached out to Councilman Robert Holden for assistance, and has since been moved to another location.

It was reported by CBS News that the assaults against him were under investigation by the NYPD’s Hate Crime Task Force — being he identifies as queer.

“From the moment this shelter was forced on our community by [former] Mayor de Blasio despite being in a non-sensical location, Westhab has been dishonest and incompetent. What goes on at this shelter is harmful to our community and to the shelter residents themselves,” Holden said.

Holden also addressed the danger he believes the shelter imposes on children in the community especially, by visiting one of the neighboring schools, PS/IS 87.

In a tweet, Holden revealed that he’d heard from parents and neighbors that a homeless individual had been harassing students of the school, along with residents.

In June, two women were assaulted on Myrtle Avenue in Glendale by a resident of the homeless shelter at the time. The perpetrator was a resident at the shelter for ten days following the assaults, and Westhab and the 104th Precinct never got together to catch him.

“We now have evidence of violence, drug abuse and a lack of supervision, including incidents exposed by a young resident of the shelter who came forward to speak to my staff and with CBS 2’s Dave Carlin,” Holden continued. “The city should not renew Westhab’s contract.”

According to the committee’s tentative mission, the Homeless Services Committee will meet quarterly at a minimum and present a report at the board’s monthly meeting.

In addition, nonmembers of CB5 who have an interest in the shelter will be permitted to be on the committee.

“We want the community to know that Community Board 5 is serious about homelessness,” said Walter Sanchez, first vice-chair of CB5.

“If we have a committee in place, even if they don’t meet too often, but they’re educated, I think it would be of great value to the community,” he continued. “It’s important to educate people. We need to listen, learn and react.”

Westhab did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

Editor’s note: Walter Sanchez is the publisher of this news organization. His recent remarks were made in his capacity while chairing the executive committee meeting on Nov. 2.

Electeds, GrubHub bring meals to homeless vets

O’Neill’s of Maspeth donates 500 meals

Last Friday, the cafeteria of Borden Avenue Veterans Residence in Long Island City looked a little bit different.

Instead of their usual meals, the residents were surprised with having the option of sausage and peppers, chicken, or pasta from O’Neill’s of Maspeth—courtesy of Councilman Robert Holden, Councilwoman Julie Won, and Grubhub.

As part of their first-of-its-kind Serving the City program, Grubhub will donate quality meals to underserved communities.

“This is a first-of-its-kind program for Grubhub and launching in New York City—touching all five boroughs and partnering with every single city council member—is the perfect way to leverage our resources and address food insecurity for those in need,”

GrubHub representatives and local elected officials provide meals from O’Neills in Maspeth

Brett Swanson, Grubhub’s senior manager for community affairs and social impact said. “To have the greatest impact, we’re going hyper-local, working with the city council members to understand specific needs in the community and then partner to address them.”

The Borden Avenue shelter is a program of Institute for Community Living, a New York-based non-profit dedicated to serving folks who are homeless or mentally ill, as well as those diagnosed with mental illness, substance abuse, and developmental disabilities. ICL also runs the Tillary Street Shelter for Women in Downtown Brooklyn.

Jody Rudin, ICL’s president and CEO, was pleased to say that with the 500 meals donated, the 200 residents would have the option to go up for seconds and thirds.

“We’ve been partnering with Councilmember Holden in his role as chair of the City Council’s Veterans Committee, and he has been focused on the needs of the 200-or-so men living here, all of whom are veterans,” she said.

“Clients often don’t have the best experience dealing with systems and getting the attention, support, and dignity that they deserve—so to have this happen for them, and to have the councilmembers come and allow a chance for them to talk about things that could be improved here is so important,” she continued. “This is about more than the food. It’s about care, compassion, and attention for this population that served our country and is now homeless.”

While addressing the cafeteria, Holden acknowledged that upon visiting the shelter a few months ago, the top complaint he heard about was the food, and said he is committed to improving it in the long term.

“I held up the food that’s served in the trays at one of the hearings, and the mayor promised to improve the food, and also the entire shelter, giving everybody a private space eventually,” Holden said.

Veterans were given a chance to share their concerns with local electeds

He assured the group that he is there for them for anything they need, and thanked them for serving their country.

Councilwoman Julie Won echoed Holden’s sentiment, and assured the residents that she strives to ensure that their needs are met.

“We heard you when you said, ‘we want to have better food on a daily basis.’ We’re going to continue to work together to make sure that our city is paying attention to the food that is served to you—that it’s culturally competent, nutritious, of the right quantity, and hot and fresh food,” Won said. “In addition to that, we hear you. We know that we have an affordability crisis on our hands for this district that I represent.”

The council members and ICL staff eventually gave the floor to the residents of the shelter, allowing them to voice their concerns and needs regarding their daily lives.

Hiram Bonet, a veteran and resident of Borden Avenue Veterans Residence, brought up mental health and quality of life issues.

“Some veterans who are here are being underserved. They don’t belong among the rest of us. They need a better, higher level of care for their mental health issues,” he said. “It’s not fair to some of us, them, their families, or our families. It needs to be addressed.”

To combat this issue, he suggested a clinical assessment on intake to appropriately evaluate the level of care they need, as opposed to merely receiving referrals from the city based on veteran status.

Bonet also brought up the fact that the dormitory areas where the men sleep at night are not air conditioned, and they are not allowed to purchase their own portable units or fans.

“I work nights at the Department of Sanitation, and when I come back, exhausted from a shift, I can’t sleep because I’m drenched in sweat. I can’t sleep with clothes on because it’s just impossible,” Bonet said. “There’s also a window in my cubicle, so I feel uncomfortable sleeping without any clothes on, but I have to.”

“On the AC issue, the long term story is we are working with the Department of Homeless Services on a real solution. We think the suggestion of fans in rooms is a good one, and we’re going to do that,” Rudin said.

“You have a commitment there, and thank you for raising these concerns.”

Assault suspect still at large

No arrests have been made

Two women were physically assaulted on June 16, along Myrtle Avenue in the vicinity of the Glendale Library.

One of the victims—a 33-year-old woman, who requested to remain anonymous—said that a man punched her in the back of the head and shortly thereafter, punched another woman in the head and attempted to push her into the street.

A male witness working at a garage for Mount Lebanon Cemetery stayed with the women until the police arrived.

The Glendale Register ran a story last week describing the attacks, and at the time of publication, did not have an image of the suspect or information about him.

Since then, an employee of the cemetery posted a photo of the suspect that was captured by surveillance footage.

Christina Wilkinson, a member of Juniper Park Civic Association, promptly forwarded the image to Councilman Robert Holden, who then sent it to Cooper Rapid Rehousing Center.

The shelter confirmed that the individual was a resident of the shelter at the time of the assaults, but left on June 26.

The 33-year-old victim said that after searching for the perpetrator in the surrounding area and being unable to locate him, officers from the 104 Precinct took their statements, and a photo of the suspect from the cemetery’s security footage.

No arrests have been made in regards to this incident, and the victim feels “blown off” by the cops.

“It felt like the detective that I spoke to a few days later was blowing me off. He didn’t seem to know about the security footage, even though both of the officers who responded saw it, and I believe one of them took a picture with his cell phone,” she previously told The Glendale Register. “It just kind of felt like nobody was going to do anything about it, or that it wasn’t an ‘important crime,’ like a ‘there are bigger fish to fry’ type of thing.

In a Facebook post to the Glendale Civic Association group, Wilkinson said that Deputy Inspector Kevin Coleman, the 104’s new commanding officer, had not seen the photo of the suspect that was posted online.

Her post also says that the officers claim there were no witnesses, and that they’d been looking for the security camera footage of the attacks.

“Since they collected the screenshot, if the police followed up with the shelter that day, they could have arrested that man,” Wilkinson said. “I think what [Holden] was most upset about was that we used to get notified by Community Affairs that a pattern was occurring and to be alert, but we’re not getting that anymore.”

She brought up the recent robbery pattern across neighborhoods in Queens, one of which happened on 80th Street and Cooper Avenue in Glendale—where an elderly man was shoved to the ground and his gold chain was removed by two individuals on a moped.

“The civic groups have been very upset lately because the communication has been lackluster coming from the precincts,” Wilkinson said. “We find out about crimes in the newspaper or on TV that are happening in our own neighborhood, and we feel that there needs to be better communication from the precinct.”

The assault victim said that she’s lived in Glendale for most of her life, and has never felt unsafe—but is now on high alert when she goes out.

“I feel like there’s somebody still out there who maybe is looking to harm people or possibly doesn’t even remember harming people, depending on what his situation is,” she said. “I almost feel like nothing’s going to happen unless he does something again.”
Wilkinson feels that the homeless shelter is actively harming Glendale and its surrounding neighborhoods.

“It’s just been a revolving door of people who really need to be monitored, and they’re not,” she said. “Most of them don’t even know where they are, so they’re wandering around performing crimes of opportunity. Many of them have mental health or substance abuse issues… I don’t know why anybody would think this would be something that would enhance the community rather than be a detriment.”

Two women assaulted in Glendale

Perpetrator still on the loose

On June 16 at around 12:30 p.m., two women were physically assaulted on Myrtle Avenue in Glendale.

A 33-year-old woman, who requested to remain anonymous, said that during her regular lunchtime walk, an unknown individual came up from behind and punched her in the back of the head.

The incident occurred on Myrtle Avenue across the street from Mount Lebanon Cemetery, near the Glendale Library.

“It wasn’t my first thought that somebody had hit me,” she said. “I thought maybe something had fallen from the roof or some kids were playing with a basketball—almost like something had been thrown at me very hard.”

Instead, a male bystander working at a garage for the cemetery told her, “That man just punched you in the head.”
In the distance, she could see the perpetrator walking away casually in the opposite direction.

A few moments after the male bystander allowed the woman to come into the garage to call 9-1-1, another woman pushing a child in a stroller approached them, visibly shaken up.

“The man I was with said to her, ‘Did he hit you, too?’ and she said, ‘Yes, he punched me in the head and tried to push me into the street,’” the woman said.

“At that point, I was still kind of on autopilot trying to explain to 9-1-1 what the situation was. After we hung up and the police were on the way, I started to get upset and was processing what was actually going on,” she continued. “I could still see [the perpetrator] walking in the distance, continuing down Myrtle Avenue toward the McDonald’s.”

She added that the other woman who was assaulted said she was afraid to walk home as she needed to go in the same direction.

The two women, the child in the stroller, and the male bystander waited together outside the garage for the police to arrive.

But before they did, the suspect approached them again, yelling nonsensical statements and threatening them.

“We ran inside the garage and hid inside a tiny office in there. There was a glass window, so we can kind of see him outside,” the woman said.

“He was looking inside the garage for us, and at that point I felt like something was really wrong,” she continued. “It felt more like he intended to hurt us the second time, because why else would you come back? It was very menacing.”

By the time the police arrived, the suspect was gone, and they searched the surrounding area for him for a few minutes.

The cops could not locate him, and took the two victims’ statements.

Although the cemetery’s security cameras were able to capture a clear image of the suspect, the woman said that “nothing has been done” by the police as far as her case goes.

“It felt like the detective that I spoke to a few days later was blowing me off. He didn’t seem to know about the security footage, even though both of the officers who responded saw it, and I believe one of them took a picture with his cell phone,” she said.

“It’s been well over two weeks now, and I haven’t heard anything back. As far as I know, nobody’s been caught, and the picture hasn’t been circulated anywhere,” she continued. “It just kind of felt like nobody was going to do anything about it, or that it wasn’t an ‘important crime,’ like a ‘there are bigger fish to fry’ type of thing.

The woman described the assailant as a Black male in his mid-to-late 20s, average-size, wearing an oversized black t-shirt, a black durag, and what appeared to be red headphones around his neck.

She said that he looked very unassuming, and would not think twice if she’d simply passed him on the street.

It is unclear whether or not the individual was mentally unwell or under the influence of a substance, or if he came from the nearby Cooper Rapid Rehousing Center, a 200-bed men’s homeless shelter, which has caused a stir in the community.

“A lot of people that I’ve told the story to seem to think he came from there… I feel a lot of compassion for people who are experiencing homelessness, and was kind of an idealist when the shelter was first opening up,” the woman said.
“If this person was from the homeless shelter, I just hope he gets whatever help he needs.”

Since being assaulted, the 33-year-old Glendale resident said that she worries about the individual hurting someone else, and now feels very unsafe in the neighborhood.

“I’ve lived in Glendale pretty much my entire life, and I’ve never felt unsafe—especially in the middle of the day walking around. Now I feel like I’m constantly on high alert, and I’m afraid to go too far from my home or from my office,” she said. “I had a routine where I would walk on my lunch break and after work. A lot of times, I would go for a longer walk around the neighborhood, maybe an hour or so. I don’t feel comfortable doing that anymore.”

“I feel like there’s somebody still out there who maybe is looking to harm people or possibly doesn’t even remember harming people, depending on what his situation is,” she added. “The fact that he came back to us like that… that’s the kind of crime that can escalate. That’s the part that’s most concerning to me, and I almost feel like nothing’s going to happen unless he does something again.”

The NYPD’s Deputy Commissioner of Public Information confirmed that no arrests have been made at the time of publication, and the investigation is ongoing.

WellLife Network brings affordable housing to Glendale

Housing for homeless, income-eligible folks

After years of planning, vying for community support, and construction, WellLife Network finally cut the ribbon on a brand new five-story affordable apartment complex in Glendale.

Dedicated to serving people across the five boroughs and Long Island with developmental disabilities or mental illnesses, WellLife Network plans to continue its mission to empower individuals to live dignified lives and achieve their goals with this new supportive mixed use apartment building.

The building, located at 80-97 Cypress Avenue, has 66 units, which are a combination of studio, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom apartments.

Forty of these units are reserved for the homeless, while the remaining 26 units are for individuals in the community who meet low-income eligibility criteria, or 60 percent of the area median income.

Sherry Tucker, CEO of WellLife Network, is saddened by the fact that over 25,000 applications were submitted for the 26 community units, revealing how much demand there is for affordable housing in New York.

The previous property at the site of 80-97 Cypress Avenue was a community eyesore for years.

“At WellLife, we work very hard to be good neighbors, wherever we go, and we are always interested in trying to improve the areas in any way we can,” she said. “We’d love to be an asset to the neighborhood and really try to help in any way we can to make it be the very best it can be, and we always want to be a part of the community in any way possible.”

On June 9, WellLife Network commemorated the official grand opening of the building with a ribbon cutting ceremony.

Local officials attended the event to compliment the project, including Ingrid Lewis-Martin, chief adviser to Mayor Eric Adams; Ahmed Tigani, deputy commissioner of NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development; and New York City Councilman Robert Holden.

“WellLife, in partnership with the New York City Department of Housing, Preservation, and Development has created a model mixed-housing development for some of our most vulnerable residents in need of supportive services, as well as for New Yorkers who just need good and decent affordable housing,” Lewis-Martin said. “We strongly encourage other developers to ‘honor the call’ to create affordable housing with amenities in communities that systematically have been on the fringes. Kudos to WellLife and HPD for a job well done.”

Tucker said that WellLife’s proposal to open this apartment complex was approved unanimously by Community Board 5.

Walter Sanchez, chairman of CB5’s Land Use Committee, said that the board’s decision to approve was the right thing for the neighborhood.

“We know that every area has to do their part in supportive housing, and we think this fits in very well with us, so our board voted overwhelmingly to approve the project,” he said.
WellLife also held public forums to hear the community’s concerns—many of which they took into consideration when tweaking the specs of the project, such as potential traffic congestion and excessive height.

However, some neighbors on Cypress Avenue are skeptical of what changes the new apartment complex might bring to the community, especially with widespread concerns about the nearby men’s homeless shelter on Cooper Avenue, Cooper Rapid Rehousing Center.

“We’re not happy about this; it’s going to be a mess,” one neighbor, who requested to remain anonymous, said. “That’s why my landlord is selling this house and we’re leaving.”

Another neighbor, Yaffa Tamano, said that she’s also not in favor of the project because it’s out of character for the rest of the block, and might bring unwanted change to the neighborhood.

Councilman Robert Holden, who has openly criticized the Cooper homeless shelter in the past, emphasized that WellLife’s new affordable housing project is in no way comparable to it.

“This is actually a home for people; they’re going to stay there. This is not something like a shelter where they’re transient and they come and they have problems,” Holden said.
“This place actually supports and treats them … Some have mental health issues, some are just falling on hard times, and some are coming from shelters, but they will get their own apartment, which is great.”

Tucker said that the building has various amenities and services that will significantly improve the quality of life for residents, such as 24/7 front desk coverage, on-site support services, a laundry room, gym, and a deck that offers a perfect view of the city skyline.

She noted that the site just passed a final routine HPD inspection, and families could start moving in as early as this week.

“The Cypress Avenue residence helps WellLife achieve its ongoing vision to create income-eligible, supportive, and affordable mixed-use housing developments that offer a safe and nurturing environment where all tenants feel a sense of belonging to a larger community,” she said.

Editor’s Note: Walter Sanchez is the publisher of BQE Media. His recent remarks were made in his capacity as chairman of CB 5’s Land Use Committee.

Activist arrested during Myrtle-Wyckoff sweep

Update: Raquel Namuche’s case was dismissed and sealed in the interest of justice.

Ridgewood Tenants Union aimed to protect belongings of homeless

As Mayor Eric Adams’ citywide effort to clear homeless encampments continues, advocates in Queens have stepped up to support homeless neighbors in their communities.

This includes Raquel Namuche, founder of the Ridgewood Tenants Union, who was arrested by NYPD officers on the morning of April 9 during an encampment sweep on Myrtle Avenue in Ridgewood.

Namuche said that at around 10:30 a.m., as members of RTU attempted to make sure no items of value were discarded, a DSNY worker began to pull away a shopping cart.

She requested a few more minutes to review the contents of the cart, but was instead arrested by two 83rd Precinct officers for disorderly conduct and ​​obstruction of governmental administration.

Namuche was taken to the 83rd Precinct in Bushwick, where she was detained for four hours and then sent to Central Booking in Downtown Brooklyn where she spent 10 hours in a cell while waiting to see a judge.

“The commanding officer told me ‘no,’ that they had no time and other sweeps to do, and that they couldn’t give us one more minute. I assumed the cart belonged to Charlie, a homeless individual who stays at that encampment, but is currently at the hospital,” Namuche said.

“We just wanted to make sure that nothing of importance was thrown away, such as documents or ID,” she continued. “For that, I was arrested. This was not planned, and we believe that this was an unwarranted arrest.”

Cellphone video of police apprehending Namuche

Namuche said that a notice of the sweep was posted a block and a half away from the encampment, and that none of the men who stayed there noticed it.
RTU members agreed to store the belongings in their basements temporarily, and communicated with the homeless individuals about how to support them during the sweep.

“In this instance, we weren’t really trying to block anything, because the men told us that they just wanted help with getting into safe shelters,” Namuche said.

She added that one of the men, Michael, was able to go to a shelter in the Bronx where he lives in a single room.

But another individual named Jo Jo lost all of his belongings as a result of the DSNY and NYPD’s sweep.

“They took all my stuff and threw it away. Now I don’t have nothing at all to live on—no clothes, no socks, they took everything,” he told RTU members during the sweep.
“It’s not fair to us.”

At a recent press conference, Eric Adams said that the ultimate goal of his revamped policy is to build trust by engaging with homeless folks and informing them of the alternatives to living on the street.

But Namuche emphasized that the majority of homeless people have the same fate as Jo Jo when it comes to these sweeps.

“It’s very rare that these individuals actually get placed somewhere that is adequate for them,” she said. “The mayor’s office said that in March, 312 individuals accepted shelter placements. That’s not enough.”

“But in the meantime, they also arrested 719 people and gave out over 6,000 tickets during the sweeps,” she continued. “That just shows how violent they are.”
Ridgewood Tenants Union is in favor of using the 2,000 vacant apartments in the city for housing, as opposed to transitional shelters or Safe Haven beds.

The group also actively advocates for issues such as the Good Cause Eviction Bill, healthy living conditions for tenants and safe working conditions.

Namuche assures homeless folks that tenants’ rights organizations, like RTU, will continue to stand with them and advocate for their rights.

“We need to work together to demand the city build and open up housing for every homeless individual,” she said. We have to keep pushing the city to actually do its job in providing the residents with the services, adequate housing, healthcare and work that they need to live fulfilled and dignified lives.”

City agencies clear out homeless camp under BQE

As part of the mayor’s clampdown on homeless encampments, one under the BQE was recently cleared

First, it was the subway. Now, it’s the encampments.

A homeless encampment under the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in Williamsburg was cleared out on Monday March 29 as part of the mayor’s new enforcement policy. Mayor Adams previously told The New York Times on March 25 that he was looking to rid encampments over a two-week period.

A 2021 report from the city found that there were more than 2,000 homeless people in the city but advocates have said that the number is undercounted and doesn’t reveal the full complexities of homelessness in New York. Advocates have also heavily criticized the mayor’s recent subway safety plan and his new encampment policy and lacks the investments in housing and resources to seriously tackle the issue.

According to a January report from the Department of Homeless Services, there are currently 1,208 stabilization beds and 687 stabilization beds throughout the city.

“If the Mayor is serious about helping homeless people, he needs to open thousands of New Safe Haven and stabilization rooms and offer them to those in need, not take away what little protection they have from the elements and other dangers on the street,” Jacquelyn Simone, policy director for the Coalition for the Homeless, said via a statement, regarding the encampment policy announcement.

Homeless outreach teams, the Department of Sanitation, and NYPD officials showed up to the north Brooklyn encampment in 20-degree weather, telling homeless individuals’ to pack up their stuff or risk it being thrown away. Signage was posted on March 25 that the Meeker Avenue area would be cleared out on Monday.

Benjamin Adam, an organizer with North Brooklyn Essentials—a wing of North Brooklyn Mutual Aid that specifically tries to provide harm reduction and goods for homeless people—said that up until the recent announcement his group and the Department of Sanitation had a cooperative relationship. While sweeps are nothing new, Adam says he has been able to have a lot of “positive negotiations” in the past that would prevent mass displacement and damage as opposed to what has happened since the mayor’s announced crackdown.

“It just feels like with the weekend there’s an escalation in terms of what was happening and why it was kind of an all hands on deck this morning,” Thomas Moore, a volunteer with North Brooklyn Essentials, said. Around two dozen other volunteers and community members showed up to help the homeless with the sweep and document the cities’ actions.

A week prior to the latest raid, two long-standing encampments under the BQE were destroyed without notice. Adam said that one of the encampments was over a year old hosting multi-generations of Spanish-speaking day laborers and that the other encampment used a bunch of found materials in order to make a handwashing station and different sleeping areas.

“What’s inhumane is destroying people’s homes,” Adam said, referring to Mayor Adams’s statement that the living conditions on encampments are inhumane. “And if there is any inhumanity in the conditions in which homeless folks live, it is a result of the inaccessibility and dangerousness of the shelter system itself, that forces them to live there. So calling someone’s home, and the condition that they live in inhumane is an absurd idea, because, in fact, these folks would much rather like most people would have healthy environments to eat in and have safe and warm homes. And they’re here because they have nowhere else to go.”

Mike Rodriguez has been homeless for around two years but has never been in a shelter because it would mean he would have to separate from his partner Parker Wolf. He’s not sure where he going to go next since he can no longer pitch his green tent under the Brooklyn Queens Expressway.

“So everybody thinks of us as a danger. But we’re in danger out here,” Rodriguez said, before describing different times he’s been harassed and one time when someone tried sexual assault him and his partner. “It’s not our choice to be out here.Homeless people are just trying to live. Nobody understands how were just as good as the next person.”

Homeless help

Dear Editor,
I was appalled and saddened to read about a 32-year-old homeless man named Akeem Loney who was stabbed in the neck and killed while sleeping aboard a northbound 2 train near Penn Station.
He was reportedly a gifted soccer player who was trying to get his life together. Transit crime is up, and something needs to be done to protect the riding public and homeless.
Loney was reportedly a gifted soccer player who was trying to get his life together. I can relate.
I was homeless in 1975 after the Vietnam War after serving in the United States Navy. I was in a shelter called Middle Earth in Hempstead, and got help from the people I met there.
In reality, many others are not so lucky. I offer my heartfelt prayers to all the homeless who are suffering, mentally and physically. I truly feel their pain because I was there.
Sincerely,
Frederick R. Bedell, Jr.
Bellerose

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