Chinatown community confronts Grand Street homeless shelter plan

Public sentiment surrounding a proposal to build a new facility for New Yorkers experiencing homelessness in Chinatown came to a head on Tuesday with opponents rallying against the plan, and proponents asking the local Community Board to give it a green light.

The city has been working with the non-profit Housing Works to consider opening a facility at a former Best Western hotel located at 231 Grand St., equipped with a 24-hour drop-in center for up to 50 homeless residents, as well as private rooms for 94 people. Community leaders and advocates opposing the proposal rallied on Mott Street ahead of a Community Board 2 meeting, arguing that Chinatown had already done its part in confronting the city’s homelessness crisis with six facilities already in the area.

“It’s not about ‘NIMBY’ [not in my backyard] because we have six shelters already… I think six is enough,” Susan Lee, a former candidate for City Council and founder of the Alliance for Community Preservation and Betterment, told Gothamist after the rally. “They are not at capacity, so why not look and see why they’re not full, why are they not providing the services necessary?”

Community activist Don Lee, who was also against the proposal, said erecting more shelters will not get at the root of the issue addressing homelessness in New York City.

“Let’s solve the real problem. Let’s give the homeless what they want: permanent homes,” he said at the rally. “We’re here to fight for the homeless as well.”

Community Board 2 posted a resolution to its website ahead of Tuesday’s meeting against the drop-in shelter, adding that its Human Services Committee received testimony from Housing Works as well as hundreds of residents expressing their opposition to the plan.

The building was formerly used for non-congregate housing for the homeless during the COVID-19 pandemic, from spring 2020 to summer 2021.

A spokesperson for Housing Works did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment. But in a press release, Chief Executive Officer Charles King said the homeless population in New York City needed facilities like the one being proposed to transition out of homelessness.

“We believe that most homeless people living on the streets and in our subway system will welcome safe havens and stabilizations facilities as an alternative to congregate shelters, where many homeless people have experienced violence,” King said. “But, these folk then need to transition to permanent housing with the type of supports that will allow them to stay housed. Adequate supportive housing will require a much more significant investment of both capital and operating dollars from New York City.”

Supporters of the proposal said the facility was needed in the neighborhood, and would be different from the existing sites.

“We obviously do not have too many shelters in our neighborhood, we have too few. The clear evidence of this is that so many of our neighbors are unhoused,” said Chinatown resident Christopher Goode, who spoke at the Community Board 2 hearing on Tuesday. “This is the right kind of shelter in the right place.”

Over the weekend, Mayor Eric Adams announced the first of what he called a potentially annual $171 million in funding to support alternatives to conventional homeless shelters. He said the money would help pay for 1,400 beds in smaller facilities that are better suited to the needs of unsheltered New Yorkers.

Not far from the site on Grand Street is the scene where Christina Yuna Lee, 35, was fatally stabbed several times inside her home on Chrystie Street. Police later arrested homeless man Assamad Nash, who was indicted in the murder. In an opinion piece in the New York Daily News, Lee wrote that her Chinatown neighborhood was more in need of investment against vicious crimes.

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