The controversial relocation of the Jan Peek Homeless Shelter in Peekskill dominated the conversation during a forum with County Executive George Latimer and County Legislator John Testa (R-Peekskill) Saturday morning.
During the 90-minute meeting at The Factoria that attracted more than 40 residents, opponents of the relocation shared their concerns and urged both officials to join them in their crusade to encourage Caring for the Hungry and Homeless of Peekskill (CHHOP) to listen to residential concerns and find an alternate location for the homeless shelter.
“I don’t think it’s the right spot for it,” said Brian Dee, owner of Brian’s Automotive, located adjacent to the proposed relocation site. “We’ve tried many times to speak with CHHOP and their board, but they don’t want to talk to us because they don’t know what to say to us. They won’t talk to us, they really won’t.”
While CHHOP held an informational forum on October 3 on the relocation, residents said they were discouraged when they weren’t given the adequate time to discuss the project with those in charge. Dee added that nobody is against a homeless shelter but would rather see it in an area that won’t significantly impact neighboring residents and businesses.
Both Latimer and Testa said that while county officials don’t have a decision-making role in the relocation, they would research the issue and work with residents, city officials and members CHHOP to increase transparency as the frustration continues to intensify.
“Maybe we can help broker a solution, even if we’re not directly responsible,” Latimer said. “We may be able to get parties around the table and see what we can do to resolve this, if that’s possible. It may work, it may not work, but that’s a reasonable request.”
CHHOP is currently proposing relocating its year-round, 24-hour shelter for homeless adults in northern Westchester to a residential neighborhood on 851 Washington Street. The shelter, which has operated on 200 North Water Street since 1988, is planning to move in 2020.
Members of CHHOP have previously said the new location would provide a safer environment for residents to ensure they stay on the premises. Residents will be provided with dorm-style rooms, a kitchen, and a common area for programs and emergency services during the day. Currently, residents must leave the shelter at 6 a.m. on most days because CHHOP does not have space to accommodate them.
Other plans for the new facility include moving the entrance to the back of the building, as well as creating a covered outdoor and enclosed space.
While the building on Washington Street is in dire need of expensive repairs and restorations, CHHOP is seeking to purchase the facility for about $900,000. Besides needing approvals from the city’s planning and zoning boards, they need a special use permit from the Common Council.
CHHOP executive director Cynthia Knox, who was met with criticism during Saturday’s forum, said construction and rehabilitation of the new facility would be an 18 to 24-month process. She added that an application has not been submitted to the city yet.
Throughout the meeting, many felt their concerns haven’t been heard by city officials or CHHOP.
“What would be nice would be for our elected officials to step up and help us with this because on more than one occasion we’ve been trying to have them hear our voices,” said Lindsey Fitzgerald, who is spearheading a petition with more than 1,000 signatures opposing the relocation. “What we find out is that the homeless shelter is very well connected with City Hall, there’s a lot of conflict of interest, and the people in our neighborhood do not feel represented by City Hall.”
Peekskill Mayor Andre Rainey and Councilwoman Vanessa Agudelo signed a petition in support of the relocation, residents said. They also noted that Knox was on Rainey’s transition team, CHHOP vice chair Ruth Wells serves on the Planning Commission and Wells’ husband, James Knight, is vice chair of the Zoning Board of Appeals.
When pressed that officials with a relationship with CHHOP should recuse their vote for the project, Knox shouted, “Why do people assume they would not recuse themselves?”
With 171 homes and more than five school bus stops located near the proposed location, residents are also irked with possible sex offenders or addicts roaming the streets, parks and woods. They also cited that the current shelter made nearly 200 phone calls to the Peekskill Police Department in one year, with calls concerning overdose, assault and altercations within the last three months.
“This is a specific local impact that you’re going to be bringing to this location,” Andrew Lu said.
After residents expressed issue with the Common Council spewing misinformation and informing residents that the county is accountable for the decision, Latimer stressed the relocation is a city issue that must be made by Peekskill officials. While Latimer added that the county has a contractual obligation with any homeless shelter for their services, he said he’s in favor of having a homeless shelter where it has local support.
“I’d rather see homeless shelters work in the county where they have the support of the local government and the local population because when you don’t have that support you have nothing but trouble,” Latimer said.