Adam Janos Adam Janos

Reformed Church Opens Its Doors to the Homeless, As Neighbors Cry Foul

“I’ve tolerated 18-wheelers making early morning food deliveries, film crews, catering trucks with loud generators, and wardrobe crews,” wrote Margaret McMahon, Milton Street resident, in a call-to-action letter to her neighbors. “I’ve held my breath when walking by crates of produce that were delivered to the Church that sat out on the curb in the sun…and also asked drunken, disorderly people to please get out of my front yard so I can get to my house.”

“[A friend once said to me], ‘What concerns me most is this is just the beginning, first a food bank – what’s next, a homeless shelter?’ I laughed and I said that would never happen. Well, here we are, Milton Street is now the proud owner of a food bank, a soup kitchen, and a homeless shelter.”

And so Ms. McMahon fired her first volley at the Greenpoint Reformed Church and Common Cause, the two groups that have collaborated together to bring a 10-bed respite program for the homeless to the Church at 136 Milton Street.

The letter – cosigned by neighbors Tom & Renata Naklicki – has sparked a discussion that led Assemblyman Joe Lentol, Councilman Steve Levin and Reverend Ann Kansfield to organize a community forum for January 24th at 7PM. The three hope to develop a dialogue on the church’s role in aiding the dispossessed, and what responsibilities Common Cause, the Department of Homeless Services (DHS), and the church itself have in keeping the street’s residents an informed part of their decision-making process.

Mr. Naklicki thinks the respite bed program is unnecessary. “There are only about fifty homeless people in Greenpoint,” he said. Naklicki argued that the 200-bed shelter at 400 McGuinness Boulevard, which opened in September, should serve the local homeless. The problem, he claims, is that it’s being largely filled with homeless from outside of the neighborhood while Greenpoint’s own homeless population remains underserved. Given the shelter on McGuinness and others throughout the city, Naklicki believes that putting a shelter on his block is an example of organizational inefficiency.

“[We’ve] set aside 20 beds [for Greenpoint’s homeless population] at the newly-opened assessment shelter on McGuinness Boulevard, to be accessed by street homeless persons who live in the community and are brought in by outreach teams,” responded DHS spokesperson Heather Janik.

“Despite the availability of [these] additional beds, Homeless Services noticed a need for clients who were unwilling to accept services, but who wanted respite from the cold. To round out the portfolio of available options for street homeless individuals, Homeless Services dedicated $100,000 in funding for a new project.”

That new project was originally slated to take place at the Church of the Ascension on Kent Street. When a development project at the church nixed the shelter plans, Kansfield opened her doors.

“As a pastor, I feel like it’s my responsibility to take care of all the people in a ten-block radius around my church. That means everybody, rich and poor,” said Kansfield.

Kansfield thinks part of the problem with the McGuinness Boulevard shelter lies in how the homeless are processed by the city. Homeless men are brought to an intake center in midtown Manhattan, and then – depending on their needs – are sent out to the shelters appropriate for them. But according to Kansfield, DHS “doesn’t take into account language or culture.” For the Polish homeless of Greenpoint, the prospect of being sent to a shelter where their language isn’t spoken is daunting, so they never go to intake for processing, and the beds on McGuinness remain empty. At the Greenpoint Reformed Church, the overnight staff speak Polish and allow them to stay in a neighborhood where they feel like they belong.

In regards to eliminating the overnight respite at the Church, Assemblyman Lentol says that it’s possible, but only if there’s a contingency plan in place for those who have found a warm bed at the church. “I, as an elected official, and other community leaders have really resolved to help our own. We’re trying to do what we can to be our brother’s keeper.”

Mr. Naklicki worries about the safety of his daughter, and – given that the overnight program only runs from 9 PM until 6 AM – wants to know what will be done to keep the homeless from openly prowling the neighborhood during the day.

“They’re not supposed to stay on the block,” says Reverend Kansfield. “And I think we’ve gotten that through to them.” Then, after a moment, she adds, “I wish there was another place they could turn to during the day.”


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  1. The hungry fed, the naked clothed … Sounds like this Church is the real deal. A reason to rejoice rather than lament?

    Nigel Appleton · Jan 13, 02:02 AM · #

  2. Apparently, good ole Scrooge is alive and well in parts of good ole Greenpoint. But unfortunately it seems that he skipped part of “A Christmas Carol”; He left out the good part: where the three spirits of Christmas past, present, and future come to visit him; where they redeem him, where they transform him. That’s too bad. For some of the cold hearted neighbors of the Greenpoint Reformed Church, living in their warm homes, shout out to us in fear and anger:“Bah Humbug! Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses? Are they hungry? Are they homeless? It’s not my problem! It’s their fault! Let them die, and decrease the surplus population! But …NOT in my back yard!”
    However, the REAL story is this: the ten homeless people seeking shelter every night in the Greenpoint Reformed Church are not strangers. They are not some kind of half-human monsters. They are people from our community. People who have lost their way. People who desperately need our help, and our understanding. If they were not in the shelter of the church on these bitterly cold, windswept winter nights, then they would be living —-and dying—- on our street corners, and our parks, as has happened repeatedly in the past. How callous some of us have become. There but for fortune, my friends… But at least now these ten people, within the sanctuary of the church, may have a chance to alter their lives for the better. I applaud -and I am proud of – the efforts of Reverend Kansfield in trying to carry out and bring to life the words of Christ, who said: “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for Me”.
    I have lived on Milton Street for over 35 years, and the Church has been there far far longer. The Greenpoint Reformed Church has the absolute right AND THE DUTY to open its doors and minister to its community – whether they be marginalized, or poor, or troubled, or hungry, or homeless, or in need ….or not. Perhaps some might prefer only mink-coated, bejeweled congregants to be walking down Milton Street. But the mission of the church is to bring the word of Christ to ALL of the community – both rich and poor; and not just mere words, but deeds as well. There may be tension at times, of course,  but that is part of living near (or buying property near) a PUBLIC institution!
    Neighbors, if you really want to complain, THEN I respectfully suggest that you complain about the seemingly unchecked proliferation of establishments that serve or sell alcohol in our neighborhood. Within the last few years more than a dozen bars have opened within two or three blocks of Milton Street. Yes neighbors – please DO complain -about some of THEIR customers, …those who come down our block, make a mess, vomit, urinate, and cause a ruckus when inebriated. Complain dear neighbors …yes, please complain…about THESE places – that all too often serve as as seductive pathways to “legal” addictions, and to eventual homelessness for some. Complain to your elected officials, …and complain LOUDLY… as to WHY they have allowed such a concentration of bars in our neighborhood. Neighbors should also complain … the OTHER churches, synagogues, and mosques in our diverse community: Tell them to also step up and do THEIR part, with regard to these social problems. And we should ALL complain, about an economic and social system that makes such measures as church soup kitchens, food pantries, and homeless shelters NECESSARY; complain about a way of life and “values” where people are simply …disposable, whether at work, or on the street; complain about a society where the only gods we truly seem to worship are money, greed, & property values – above all else.
    Neighbors, please, LIVE your faith and your humanity—NOT your prejudices and your pocketbooks and your fears. But don’t live your faith with mere words or sermons or prayers. And not only on your respective days of worship. Do it by truly supporting good works and deeds, such as the church is trying to sustain and provide. The church is working on problems created and fostered by other forces – forces in the community, and in the society, and in a bad economy. Obviously, the Greenpoint Reformed Church is not the source of these problems. Instead, it is trying its best to be part of the cure. Love thy neighbor? Yes—- ESPECIALLY- – if they are poor, hungry or homeless. THAT…. is the true meaning of “community”.
    These people need our healing and our help – not our harsh words of hatred and harassment. If YOU were in their tattered shoes; if YOU lived their shattered lives, then YOU would hope and pray and plead for compassion and understanding; YOU would hope and pray and plead that when YOU fell, people would help to lift you up – instead of kicking you further and further down. Neighbors, whatever religion you embrace – or don’t embrace – please listen to the “better angels within you”: Try to work WITH the Greenpoint Reformed Church to make things better …not against it. If we are anything at all – we are ALL God’s children. Please, do the right thing. For what kind of society, what kind of community, and what kind of people are we – IF we close our eyes, IF we turn away, and IF we let people die on our street corners, in our parks..and.. in our hearts? IF we let that happen, then ask not for whom the bell tolls, dear neighbors. It tolls for thee….

    schaz · Jan 22, 02:30 AM · #

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