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Neighborhood Coalition Fights Drop-In Center Relocation!
BY BRUCE A. SILBERBLATT

Guided by the Turtle Bay Association, an aroused group of residents from ten buildings in our community have organized the Coalition for the Sensible Location of Grand Central Social Services. The objective of the Coalition is to ensure that the Homeless Drop-In Center operated by Grand Central Neighborhood Social Services will remain west of Third Avenue. As the attached map (see page 8) indicates, Grand Central Neighborhood Social Services is trying to shift it nearly 1,600 feet from its present site, the basement of Saint Agnes Church. This move would take the Drop-In Center far from the Grand Central Terminal vicinity, which it was mandated to serve, and foist it upon a residential block at 302 East 45th Street. It was created by the Grand Central Partnership, which, in a blatant case of NIMBYism, seems intent on shifting its creation away from its commercial Business Improvement District and deep into its neighbor, Turtle Bay.

The planned location at 302 East 45th Street is but 300 feet away from the International Pre-School and its street-front outdoor playground, 650 feet from an existing homeless women's shelter, and shares the block with four large apartment houses and three UN missions. The block is often closed for security reasons during UN sessions. Into this environment there would intrude at least 200 homeless men a day. The operator of the Drop-In Center has not the slightest compunction about inserting his facility into this residential neighborhood and, in the process, ousting a local restaurant, Alonzo's, from the ground and second floors of 302 East 45th Street. Alonzo's doubtless would go out of business, leaving its employees jobless. The building is far too small to handle the number of homeless it now accommodates at Saint Agnes and the spillover will of a certainty end up in the streets and parks of Turtle Bay. It is difficult to conceive of a more inappropriate site.

Exacerbating matters, the Center operator has failed to involve the community in its plans. He quietly leased the two top floors of 302 East 45th Street last April without prior notice. Neither he nor any other Center representative appeared at Community Board 6 hearings. He has circulated false and misleading data, to the Department of Homeless Services, the city agency having jurisdiction in this matter. That agency, which has indicated its support of the move despite the obvious shortcomings of the proposed site, has in its writings copied virtually word for word the erroneous propaganda broadcast by the Center.

The Department of Homeless Services has, however, attached a condition: The Center must have full "control" of 302 East 45th Street. The only way Alonzo's can be legally forced to vacate, however, is if that the building is sold to the Center. The latter, the Coalition believes, has an option to purchase that expires in early October. The Center's financial condition is precarious at the very least, with liabilities exceeding assets by nearly a three-to-one ratio (its operator, during the same period, drew down a six-figure salary!). It is doubtful that any bank would lend it the necessary funds (some $2,400,000); this money would have to come from either the city or the Grand Central Partnership. Even if it obtained a loan, the Center, which operates at a loss, lacks the income to service such a loan.

Early last June, the Turtle Bay Association unanimously passed a resolution opposing the plans of the drop-in center. On July 11, after an impressive turnout by neighborhood residents, Community Board 6 followed suit.

The Coalition intends to vigorously press its fight to move the Center west of Third Avenue. Its course of action is political at present, reaching out to both the city and the Grand Central Partnership. To this end, they have engaged the services of Robert Dryfoos, an attorney and former City Council Member representing our neighborhood.

Dryfoos is familiar with both our community and the operations of city government. In addition, Assemblyman John Ravitz has come to the aid of the Coalition. Support has also emanated from Council Member Eva Moskowitz, Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields, and Representative Carolyn Maloney. Needless to say, the Coalition will need a sizeable war chest with which to carry on the fight. Turtle Bay Association members are urged - indeed exhorted - to pitch in with their contributions to defend the quality of life we have worked so persistently to earn.

For the very latest information on this issue, visit the Coalition's website: grandcentralshelter.com.

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The Turtle Bay Association is a nonprofit (501c3) community organization.

224 East 47th Street, New York City 10017
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