Peekskill residents last week answered a call from Mayor Andre Rainey to turn out and voice their concerns about the proposed relocation of the only year-round, 24-hour shelter for homeless adults in northern Westchester.
For nearly two hours last Monday night, the Peekskill Common Council once again listened to residents and business owners who live and work near 851 Washington Street where the Jan Peek House Shelter, which has operated on North Water Street in Peekskill since 1988, is planning to move in late 2019 or early 2020.
The building was purchased by Caring for the Hungry and Homeless of Peekskill (CHHOP) for about $900,000 and is in dire need of expensive repairs. Besides needing approvals from the city’s planning and zoning boards, CHHOP requires a special use permit from the Common Council. City Manager Richard Leins reiterated last week no formal application from CHHOP has been submitted yet to the city.
The majority of speakers who packed City Hall expressed opposition to the shelter finding a new address in a residential area, citing safety concerns and frequent police activity that the existing shelter attracts.
“That does have me very concerned about how it could potentially change the neighborhood,” said Peter Sarson, a resident of McKinley Street. “I don’t think 851 Washington Street is the right place for it.”
Lindsey Fitzgerald, who has spearheaded the effort to block the relocation of the shelter with her husband, Brendon, said 1,012 signatures opposing the move have been received to date on a petition, as compared to about 100 signatures supporting the move on a different petition.
“We can all find a solution. The Jan Peek Shelter has been here for 30 years,” she said. “There’s a place for it in the community. We can certainly find the right location for it if we work together.”
In September, CHHOP Executive Director Cynthia Knox said her organization did an extensive search and settled on 851 Washington Street since it can be renovated to serve its needs and is close to a bus stop.
When CHHOP issued a release about moving in August, Knox said the new location will provide enhanced services to its clients, including many veterans. A major attraction of the new facility will be a dedicated space where those in need of emergency services can stay during the day. Currently, those individuals must leave the shelter at 6 a.m. on most days because CHHOP does not have space to accommodate them.
In addition, the new site provides for shared rooms by a couple of residents, as well as a kitchen rated for cooking, rather than just warming. Other plans for the new facility include moving the entrance to the back of the building, as well as creating a covered outdoor space. The new shelter is planned to have 35 beds.
Carla Rae Johnson and Ingrid Whitman were among a handful of speakers who expressed support for CHHOP’s plans.
“I think a homeless shelter that is placed in a community will be a sign of a city that welcomes and includes all of its citizens,” said Whitman, who noted she is a member of the Jan Peek House Coalition. “By the grace of God any one of us could become homeless. We should think what’s best for the residents (of the shelter) and think about their humanity and dignity.”
Rainey, who was accused at a previous public meeting of having secret meetings and “under the table deals” in regard to the shelter, maintained the council was not in a position yet to get involved with the shelter’s future.
“I’m trying to bridge the gap between the opposition and those who support it,” he said. “I’m willing to help and I’m trying to help.”
Meanwhile, on Facebook last week, Philip Miller, owner of the existing shelter on North Water Street, said he had offered the city a proposal for the relocation of the shelter to a city-owned property on Corp Drive, off Highland Avenue. Miller stated he would construct a 50,000-square-foot building, which could be shared by the shelter and a new Peekskill Department of Public Works.
“Time to act as I have been more than willing and able to proceed in this regard for some time,” Miller stated. “I have not pressed the mayor or the council to act on my written proposal. Nor have I presented it to the shelter as I await a response. Time to go public here.”