A Greenpoint church has quietly opened a shelter for homeless alcoholics who frequent nearby McGolrick Park despite demands from residents not to give them a bed for the night.
More than 400 Greenpoint residents signed a petition against the shelter when Pastor Amy Kinezle of Lutheran Church of the Messiah first floated the idea last month, arguing that the shelter will attract mentally ill men and leave residents prone to robberies and home break-ins.
“It is going to be a big problem on the block,” said neighbor Jane Bognacki. “These people need real professional help and this is not going to do that for them at all.”
In fact, the center, which opened on Thursday, Jan. 22, and will house 10 men, neither requires men to go through an intake process nor demands they be sober.
And Kinezle says that is the point.
“It is part of the church’s mission to serve all of our neighbors, especially those who are at risk,” she said.
The church partnered with Common Ground, an organization that works with the Department of Homeless Services. It has provided the 10 rollout cots and two staffers each night.
It gives men a place to sleep from 8 pm at night until 6 am the following morning during the cold months. In the past year, two homeless men have died in the park.
Councilman Steve Levin (D–Williamsburg) worked with Kienzle to come up with a shelter plan, saying that the lives of Greenpoint’s homeless is more important than the concerns of neighbors.
“I have an obligation to address this issue in my own community,” Levin said.
Kienzle added that the shelter’s mission is much simpler than trying to tackle big problems such as alcoholism.
“It is a small solution to an immediate need to prevent people from dying,” she said. “The main purpose is so people do not die.”
The Common Ground employees will also alert the homeless men to other services and will encourage them to go to programs to treat mental illness and alcoholic in the mornings instead of going back out into the streets of Greenpoint.
Kienzle plans to keep the center open until the weather is warm enough to make sleeping outside safe, and she plans to open it again next winter.
This is not the first time a church-based shelter has faced opposition in Greenpoint. Neighbors were up in arms about the 10-bed shelter at the Greenpoint Reformed Church on Milton Street two years ago. Pastor Ann Kansfield eventually closed that shelter in the face of mounting community pressure.