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400-500 State Street Block Assoc. Updates

Block Assoc. at Two Years; New Shelters
By Michelle Itkowitz
Posted: 2021-12-17T00:54:00Z

I’ve been the Block Association president for the group’s first two years. In that time, we have gotten organized, doubled in size, and done a lot of good things. I am very proud of the Block Association.


A block association is a tricky thing. It is never going to be held together by any of the adhesives that typically bind people. We certainly are not, for example, all on the same page politically. I know of libertarians and socialists, conservatives and progressives, and everything in between, in this group. We work in different professions. We are different ages. We have different incomes, religions, hobbies. We are connected only by our proximity to one another. We live here. That’s it. And when I started trying to organize us, that did not feel like much to work with. I see it differently now.


The extreme localness, the tangible nature of our issues, the fact that we live here…that is the glue. That is our power.


In a world where people are starkly divided politically, I can get pretty much everyone to agree that they want less loose trash on the street. In a world of Bitcoin and NFT’s, where nothing is tangible anymore, I could still get pretty much everyone to agree that planting trees in our empty tree wells was a nice idea. In a world where everything is on Zoom, who does not love showing up for our block parties (see Halloween story below)! No matter what you think of the police, pretty much everybody can agree that our camera map, which we share with the precinct, helps fight crime by aggregating our local video data more efficiently. And since it’s hard to find anybody who enjoys having their packages stolen, pretty much everyone can agree that our Theft Prevention Guide is a useful thing.


With that I turn to the new homeless shelters, to collectively house 265 men, apparently coming soon to Boerum Hill. Howard Kolins, president of the Boerum Hill Association, asked me to raise awareness. But that is all I am doing. At the bottom of this post, I will cut and paste what Howard sent to me, as well as other helpful resources on this topic. We (as a Block Association) have no position on these facilities. The Block Assoc. is not for the shelters or against the shelters. Positions on larger neighborhood-wide and city-wide issues, for things not located on the blocks or even directly adjacent, are the domain of neighborhood-wide and city-wide organizations.


When the dust settles, if either of these shelters open, then I do think we, as a Block Association, have some work to do. We need Block Assoc. members on the shelters’ advisory boards. Carmen R., our treasurer, found this on page 104 of the NYC publication on the initiative that is creating these facilities:


“For every new shelter that is required and being planned, DHS now creates a community advisory board with appointees designated by local elected officials and community members. Community advisory boards hold regularly scheduled meetings with DHS staff, the shelter provider, and the NYPD, when appropriate. Partnerships with and volunteer opportunities for local residents and block associations are often developed at these meetings. When a concern arises, board members know whom to contact and respond in real time to update DHS and the community-based organization that operates the shelter. Community advisory boards have [developed] compromises and effectively address[ed] concerns.”


We need a few of you, on behalf of the Block Association, on these facilities’ community advisory boards! It is always good to have a seat at the table. Information is power. Access is invaluable.


Which brings me to the finale of this post. Meaningful participation in the larger things that affect us is only gained via community organization. Individually, any of us are powerless. Together, we have a voice. If it is the sweeping and the packages and the parties that unite us, then those things are not only inherently precious, but they are doubly valuable for bringing us together.


Resources Regarding the New Homeless Shelters:


(1) Message to us from Howard Kolins of the Boerum Hill Association:


New facilities: Two locations in our area and two locations in Fort Greene.


316 Atlantic Avenue, operated by Black Veterans for Social Justice (formerly ASA dormitory next to French Louis)

Opens mid-summer

105 men, general population

On-site communal recreation space


1 Hoyt, 3-8 floor operated by African American Planning Commission (above the closed Modell's location at Fulton Mall)

Opens 01/22

160 men, general population

communal recreation space


(2) 128-page booklet from NYC on the “Turning the Tide on Homelessness” plan, which is the origin of the shelters.


In Community,

Michelle Itkowitz
400-500 State Street Brooklyn Block Association, Inc.