May 10, 2018 By Nathaly Pesantez
Blissville, the small, remote neighborhood recently in the spotlight for an ongoing homeless shelter controversy, has formed a new civic group to take on the neighborhood’s challenges, with a protest at Gracie Mansion already planned next week.
The Blissville Civic Association, the name of the new group, formed about one month ago and is currently operating in “crisis mode” as its founding members tackle their first major issue—a permanent homeless shelter for adult families heading to the area’s Fairfield Inn by Marriott hotel.
The new facility, set to open some time this spring, will be the third hotel in the Blissville area to be in use as a homeless shelter in recent months. The nearby Best Western hotel has been temporarily housing homeless families since November, while the City View Inn began housing homeless families in July before abruptly switching to sheltering homeless men in January.
Blissville residents have repeatedly voiced their anger and opposition to the upcoming shelter at Community Board 2 meetings and at a town hall organized by the Department of Homeless Services (DHS). Residents cite safety and crime concerns, the city’s lack of transparency on the matter, and a homeless population larger than Blissville’s residential population of about 475 as reasons for their opposition, among other factors.
Still, the DHS intends to open the new 154-unit shelter, and says it will phase out the City View Inn and Best Western shelters beginning in 2021.
The Blissville Civic Association, however, continues to reject the city’s plans for the neighborhood. The group has secured permits to protest outside Gracie Mansion at 9 a.m. on May 14; is working on a City Hall protest the following day; and is also seeking legal help and raising funds to bring a case against the city. The group has raised $2,960 so far since opening a GoFundMe campaign three days ago.
“We are going to the mayor’s front yard because we want him to know who we are,” said Akbar Rizvi, BSA President and two-year resident of Blissville. “We want him to explain to us why this [shelter here] works.”
Beyond being able to handle a third shelter, Rizvi says the secluded neighborhood is lacking in basic resources like grocery stores, parks, and transportation, and can’t possibly be a good place to shelter the homeless.
“If you walk through Blissville, it’ll be clear to anyone that if you cared about giving the homeless the right opportunities to build their lives, you wouldn’t put them in this area,” Rizvi said.
The civic association also reached out to Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer for their support. Maloney will be protesting along with the group and other residents on Monday, while Van Bramer will join the group at City Hall on Tuesday if permits are obtained.
“The total population of Blissville, excluding the homeless population, is roughly 475 people,” Maloney said in a statement. “Adding a third shelter would put the number of people living in shelters in Blissville at over 500. It’s not good for either the community or the homeless population to have that kind of imbalance.”
Similarly, Van Bramer said de Blasio’s proposal is “wrong for the community”, and unfair to both permanent residents of Blissville and homeless individuals.
Maloney added that the city has fair share rules in place so that neighborhoods won’t become overwhelmed by a shelter and so the incoming homeless population can properly integrate into the community.
But the DHS claims that the upcoming shelter would be a good fit for the neighborhood in its Fair Share analysis, noting that the facility is “compatible and consistent with the immediate vicinity and surrounding area.”
The BSA, however, rejects many of these findings, coming up with their own analysis instead.
D.C. Martin, BSA Treasurer with a background in forensic anthropology, referenced past fair share analyses the DHS has conducted for shelters in Crown Heights and Elmhurst in his report, where the agency pointed to the amenities within each neighborhood as a reason to bring shelters there, among other factors.
“It’s loose language,” Martin, whose family has lived in Blissville for generations, said of the DHS’ analyses. “If Crown Heights and Elmhurst were great places for shelters, then Blissville should be the opposite.”
“It seems more and more evident that the DHS can say whatever they want,” Martin added. “They are not held to any standard.”
The DHS has been in communication with the Blissville Civic Association in the weeks before the shelter opens, and is also set to create a community advisory group to engage with the neighborhood. Residents, however, remain critical of the city’s project and the agency’s ability to carry it through.
“This is not fair share,” said Maria Davis, BSA Vice President and near 20-year resident of the area. “We are being bulldozed by the mayor and DHS.”
“It’s a recipe for disaster,” she added. It’s reckless and it’s dangerous.”
Isaac McGinn, DHS Press Secretary, said in a statement that the agency is currently readying the Blissville hotel to be in use as a shelter facility.
“We are ensuring the building is ready for occupancy, finalizing all required reviews, and expect to open this facility this spring after all has been completed.”
For more information on the Blissville Civic Association, including upcoming meetings, visit their Facebook page.