West 107th Street Shelter Gets Stay

| 17 Feb 2015 | 03:14

    By [Dan Rivoli] The Department of Homeless Services and West 107th Street residents came to an agreement earlier in the year that the once-controversial homeless women's shelter on the block would close Dec. 1. But as that date drew near and the temperature dropped, the community advisory board for the shelter on 237 W. 107th St., between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue, decided to let the city continue to take in homeless women until June 2011. "All of us felt it was a good solution with winter upon us," said Elizabeth Bergreen, a West 107th Street resident and member of the advisory board. Aside from rectified complaints of trash pick-up, the community advisory board members have had few complaints with how the shelter meshed with the neighborhood. The shelter's outdoor backyard was fixed so women staying in the building could go smoke cigarettes or be outside without lingering on the stoop or sidewalk. "So, we don't even know it's a shelter there," said Kathy Lanoix, the president of the West 107th Street Block Association. "They're behaving themselves. Let them stay." The amicable relationship between the city's Department of Homeless Services and the West 107th Street residents was once contentious. The homeless shelter used to operate as an illegal hostel known as the West Side Inn. The building was intended to house low-income New Yorkers in Single Resident Occupancy (SRO) units-a college dorm-like room with shared spaces. In February, the city tried to open a 135-bed, full-time homeless shelter in the building, giving the owner a nine-year contract. The community felt blindsided by the proposal. Also, the West Side Spirit reported that the building's real landlord, unknown to the city, was Mark Hersh. There were allegations, some the city found valid, that Hersh harassed his tenants-he was called the "West Side Batman" for chasing residents with a baseball bat. He also owned buildings with open violations from the city. After his identity as the building's owner was revealed, the city nixed his contract and decided to keep the homeless shelter as a temporary facility to be shut down in December. (City Comptroller John Liu conducted an audit of the Department of Homeless Services and dubbed the agency the "Department of Hand-Shake Deals.") While the community feels that those in need of homeless services should stay on the West Side through winter, the decision also buys time to draft a plan to turn the building into affordable housing. Rev. John Duffell, pastor at the neighboring Church of the Ascension at 221 W. 107th St., believes if the Department of Homeless Services leaves too soon, another agency would start using the building. The main goal for the community is to turn Hersh's property into affordable housing. "There are going to be serious efforts to see what we can do," Duffell said. But that entails Hersh selling the building first. "It's privately owned and of course the owner is Hersh, who is hidden away," Duffell added. Hersh could not be reached for comment. Hersh's phone number and address are currently unlisted. His previous listed number was for the Hotel Saint James, which accepted messages for him. But the man who answered the phone there said that Hersh stopped coming by and did not leave new contact information. Hersh spoke to the West Side Spirit once, March 10. In his comments, he denied allegations of tenant harassment and said he wanted no part of the SRO business. "I'm getting out the business. I'm moving to Florida," Hersh told West Side Spirit. "I'm disgusted with the SRO business." Hersh's future plans for his 237 W. 107th St. property are unknown.