The proposed relocation of the only year-round, 24-hour shelter for homeless adults in northern Westchester in Peekskill faced heavy scrutiny from a room overflowing with residents at City Hall last week.
For more than 90 minutes, the Peekskill Common Council heard an earful, mostly from 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 near the Hudson River 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.
Former Councilman Vincent Vesce, Jr. said he found it “hard to believe” that CHHOP would acquire the building without having received some assurances from city officials that its plans would be okayed.
“This does not add up,” Vesce remarked. “It’s a real serious issue. You have a responsibility to everyone, not just people that support you.”
Mayor Andre Rainey said he first heard about the shelter changing addresses recently on Facebook, while Councilwoman Vivian McKenzie adamantly denied the council was in “cahoots,” responding, “You have to go through a process. The process hasn’t even begun. I don’t appreciate the council being accused.”
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.
“We all wish that all homeless shelters and food pantries would disappear. We live in hope that day will come soon,” she said. “We look forward to engaging in dialogue with our neighbors and stakeholders as we move forward as a community.”
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.
Since 2011, Jan Peek House has provided “Emergency Drop-In Services,” beds for homeless men and women who are referred by Peekskill health providers, police officers and area houses of worship. In addition to the Jan Peek House, CHHOP runs four other programs, including: Fred’s Pantry, a choice food pantry that provides nutritious groceries to more than 400 people each week; Health Care for Homeless Veterans, the first and only program in Westchester County that provides residential, clinical, and treatment services for veterans; Turning Point, a supportive housing program for chronically homeless individuals that includes assessment, life skills training, crisis intervention, and other support services to address the underlying causes of homelessness; and New Start, a rapid rehousing program to help survivors of domestic violence and homeless veterans attain self-sufficiency. This program includes referrals and linkages to vocational services.
“We try to make these people feel at home because they don’t have a home,” said John Halleran, a member of CHHOP’s executive board. “We want a facility that we as a community can be proud of.”
An online petition originated by CHHOP for support has been signed by 120 people as of Monday. Another petition opposing the move, which was created by Brendon Fitzgerald, who resides near 851 Washington Street, has generated 550 responses.
“Everybody in this city has no ill will towards homeless people. We have no ill will towards CHHOP. CHHOP does an amazing job,” Fitzgerald said at the meeting last week. “We should be working together to come up with a solution. Let’s find the right place in Peekskill for it. It shouldn’t be in any residential community.”
Andrew Liu, a 30-year resident of Peekskill, said he was concerned residents could be put in harm’s way by some of the clients who frequent the shelter.
“The damaging effect on our rights to public safety, property and financial security is immeasurable and could destroy everything our community has worked for,” he said.
Others expressed compassion for individuals who rely on the Jan Peek House.
“We have a responsibility to take care of people who are less able in our community,” said Monica Flaherty, a four-year city resident who owns 10 properties in Peekskill. “We should not react in a kneejerk way to fear.”
“I don’t feat the homeless shelter. What I fear is the future of Peekskill and the gentrification of Peekskill,” said Ted Bitter, co-owner of Bean Runner Café in Peekskill. “The Peekskill in this room tonight is not the Peekskill I know.”
CHHOP will be hosting an informational meeting on its plans on Thursday, September 27 at 7 p.m. in the Neighborhood Center at 4 Nelson Avenue.