About a month ago I began receiving emails and text messages that homeless men were seen congregating around the Pyramid Reception Center at 161st and Elton and Washington Avenues, a former YMCA turned youth detention center that was purchased in October 2013 for $6.65 million.
Last week, upon visiting the building, I was able to confirm BronxWorks was indeed running a men’s homeless shelter in the building as per conversation with the staff. I was told that there were currently 115 men living in the building and they would be able to accommodate a total of 200 men but no more than that. 16 social workers were also in the process of being either hired or moved to the facility as well to provide services for these homeless men.
Although they screened for sex offenders, I was told by David Pobereskin, Director of Security for BronxWorks, that they do not screen for drugs and alcohol but if someone was found to have such substances on them, they would be ejected from the shelter immediately.
Responding to community complaints of many of the homeless men sleeping in the park and at Boricua Village and other nearby places, BronxWorks instituted a policy that no loitering was allowed on such premises and if residents did not comply, they would also be removed from the premises. To date, one individual did not want to comply with the new policy and was removed from the facility.
The Melrose community had been blindsided, yet again, by another homeless shelter facility opening in the neighborhood without community input particularly given the fact that the site sits in between major existing and proposed cultural venues in the area.
“This building, as a former YMCA, is a unique structure that should be used in a way that serves the community and adds to the cultural corridor that is being established there with the Bronx Music Heritage Center and No Longer Empty.” said Hannah Leshaw, a Melrose resident and Community Board 3 member.
“It is outrageous that The Bluestone Group, DHS and BronxWorks secretly opened a homeless shelter on this site. It is outrageous that the community board and neighbors were not notified or consulted.” added Leshaw.
She is not the only one upset about this building which has so much potential to be utilized in such a manner.
Steven J Bloomfield, a resident of Melrose whose great-grandparents had settled here in the beginning of the 20th century also was extremely dismayed.
“This former YMCA building is also of tremendous symbolic importance to our community, by embodying our hopes and dreams for the future. The Melrose community buzzed with excitement last summer when Pyramid Detention Center was sold at auction, bringing with it hopes that the vacant building would finally come back to life and play a vital role in the community through one of many creative proposals that had been made for its re-use.” Bloomfield said in a letter addressed to Mayor de Blasio.
“The last thing we ever expected was that Pyramid would instead be used for purposes detrimental to our community with the potential to undermine and rollback the many gains that we have made in recent years here in Melrose.” he continued.
Assemblyman Michael Blake gave a tour of the neighborhood on Friday to various individuals and one of the stops was the Pyramid Center to discuss the potential of the building. Blake is aware of the situation on the building but when asked for a comment from his office, none was provided.
Making matters worse, owners at the Aurora Condominiums found homeless men sleeping in the vestibule of their building which is directly behind the shelter.
When the building was purchased last year by the Bluestone Group, Barry Altmark, Director of Acquisitions, contacted Welcome2TheBronx to discuss the purchase and to help identify a community based organization to occupy at least 20% of the building since it was part of the terms of sale during the auction of the building by New York State.
Immediately I mentioned the plans which BronxNet had worked on to turn the building into a major cultural center — the South Bronx Social Venter Center which would have provided the community with BronxNet television production studios, 51,000 square foot Community Media Center, and a host of other services for all ages from youth to seniors.
But instead, The Bluestone Group decided to lease the building to an unknown entity which they have yet to disclose who subsequently subleased the building to BronxWorks.
When I contacted Mr Altmark last week, I was immediately told that there was no homeless shelter operating in the building but when confronted with the fact that I had made a site inspection and had confirmed it, I was told that he’d have to get back to me.
After our phone conversation, I immediately emailed him to recap our conversation to which Altmark responded, “As I was unsure of the current status and use of the property, I inquired with my bosses and verified that we have net leased the property to a 3rd unrelated party. As such, we have no relationship or involvement with BronxWorks or any operations related to this property.”
When further pressed on the issue as to what their involvement was with the tenant, and who the current leasehold was, Altmark simply replied, “We have entered into a net lease with an unrelated real estate entity on the entire property. Who they sub-leased or contracted with to occupy the property is their concern, and we have no involvement or control in that. I will pass along your information to them and have them reach out to you.”
Further attempts to get information from The Bluestone Group was unsuccessful and it is very disconcerting to have someone as a landlord so callously allow such a building be utilized for such services and not benefit the entire community.
It should be noted that the community is not opposed to the homeless population nor are ignorant to the crisis we are facing in New York City and in our own backyard in The Bronx, but Melrose and the surrounding communities have an over-saturation of such facilities and the Pyramid Center is not an appropriate building for a homeless shelter considering the huge potential the building has to serve the entire community and not just one segment of the population.
Even resident Juan Pablo Jimenez, who lives in the North Rose Apartments at Boricua Village and once found himself homeless felt the same way.
“While I was homeless myself once and understand the importance of any homeless shelter in this city, I have seen first-hand how some homeless shelters in NYC are owned and operated. A lot of times residents of these shelters are allowed to loiter outside the building. With all this open community space right near Boricua College and the North Rose buildings I feel there will be a lot of hanging out and possibly even people sleeping in our common areas when they miss curfew. Now if the shelter is enforcing curfew and making sure no one is outside hanging out in The North Rose atrium I am fine. Kids play in these areas and we want to make sure we are keeping it safe.” said Jimenez.
Currently, CB3 is requesting all lease information from BronxWorks and to appear before the Land Use committee on April 20 at 6PM at 1426 Boston Road at the corner of Prospect Avenue.