News | Upper West Side

Court dismisses residents' complaint to reject homeless shelter contract

  • Yue Ben / Senior Staff Photographer
    STOP IT | The New York Supreme Court dismissed a complaint filed by local residents asking the city not to register the contracts for Freedom House, a homeless shelter on West 95th Street.

 The Supreme Court of the State of New York dismissed a complaint filed by an Upper West Side neighborhood group, who asked the city to not register contracts for a homeless shelter on West 95th Street.

Filed in 2013 by Neighborhood of the 90s and dismissed on March 28, the complaint would have prevented former Comptroller John Liu from registering the Freedom House shelter contract with the city. The court rejected the claim that the area was “over-saturated” with support housing.

In the same ruling, the court also approved another petition by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg that forces the city to register the contract.

Registering the $47 million contract would also allow the city’s Department of Homeless Services to look into extending the shelter from a five-year to a 9.5-year establishment. Local residents have opposed the shelter since it opened in 2012, citing concerns about neighborhood safety, the operator’s controversial history, and the presence of other homeless shelters on the Upper West Side.

Freedom House opened as an “emergency shelter” in the summer of 2012, a classification that allowed the city to open the shelter without community input. The emergency contract expired in February 2013, but the shelter nevertheless continued operating—the new contracts would have formalized the agreement between the city and the shelter operator.

In October 2013, an audit of Aguila, Inc.—the company that operates Freedom House and about 40 other shelters in the city—uncovered unhealthy conditions in the building and found that the company was experiencing financial problems. At the time, Liu asked the city to reject the contracts for the shelter.

Aaron Biller, president of Neighborhood in the 90s, wrote a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio on April 1 asking him to reject the contract.

“When the contract was written in November 2012, Aguila was merging with Housing Solutions, run by former DHS Commissioner Robert Hess, supposedly to clean up Aguila,” the letter said. “The organization’s disarray merits a review of the contract, as does a second damning audit of Aguila.”

In an email to Spectator, Biller said that the contract will waste taxpayer money and that de Blasio should seek a long-term solution to homelessness instead of expanding homeless shelters.

“If de Blasio does not reverse course, how can he call himself ‘progressive.’ They are not helping the homeless population achieve their Independent Living Plans, they are helping those who can and want to work find jobs. It is driving out SRO tenants who have lived in these buildings for decades. The only winner is the person who pockets the excessive, long term contract - the owner-providers,” Biller said.

District 6 City Council member Helen Rosenthal said that she has been meeting with neighbors, shelter staff, and representatives from DHS, and that she will continue to do so.

“The electeds and some people from the community met with the shelter director as well as people from DHS last week. I think we’re meeting again in two weeks. We have a list of concerns that we want them to address. The police will be coming to the next meeting so that they can directly respond to the issues of increased panhandling and crimes that have been happening right around that area,” Rosenthal said.

She said that DHS did not have a sense of the full extent of activity at the shelter, mentioning a television that was thrown out of a window. 

“We quickly disabused them of that point of view,” Rosenthal said.

Rosenthal said that she will be releasing a statement on Friday with more details about the shelter complaint and the future handling of the problem.

At Tuesday’s Community Board 7 meeting, board member Miki Fiegel said that she had received many complaints about the shelter since it opened almost two years ago.

“I’ve been getting a lot of complaints about the shelter on 95th Street,” Fiegel said. “A lot more begging on Broadway—a lot more aggressive begging—a lot more acting out. Of course no one knows if these folks actually come from 95th Street, but it certainly has exacerbated since the shelter opened and I know that you’re working.”

eva.kalikoff@columbiaspectator.com  |  @EvaKalikoff

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Aaron Biller posted on

For the record, my comment was that the shelter is "NOT helping those who can and want to find work find jobs." The inadvertant removal of "NOT" is critical to understanding that the shelter operator is charging for employment counseling, but not even approaching what needs to be done - giving a helping hand to lift people out of the homeless system. It's a waste of human capital and taxpayer money. The system gives operators a disincentive to help people - it's bad for business!

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