On June 28, 2012 Speaker Christine Quinn's office and the West 45th Street Block Association hosted a Community Action Committee meeting on issues related to the Aladdin homeless shelter at 317 W 45th St. Thanks to everyone who showed up and spoke out.
More than 50 community members, including several residents from the Aladdin, came to hear from and voice their concerns to representatives of Speaker Quinn, Senator Duane, Dept of Homeless Services, NYPD, Community Board 4, and Housing Solutions, USA (the new social services contract holder at the Aladdin). Noticeably absent was the owner of the Aladdin -- Alan Lapes -- a last-minute cancellation.
Issues discussed at the meeting included crime, trash, noise, the lack of outside security, and the appalling living conditions at the Aladdin. From all that was said, we have identified three problems to focus on:
1. Security (especially outside)
2. Trash (alleys/courtyard, sidewalk and tree pits)
3. Living conditions (lack of cooling / common areas)
1. Security. The lack of outside building security and enforcement of rules was roundly condemned by community member after community member. The Whitby manager reported her security guard had to break up a recent fistfight on the sidewalk involving Aladdin residents because no Aladdin guard responded to the fracas. One block resident reported seeing security from the Aladdin participating in a drug buy. Public drunkenness and shouting is a daily occurrence. Members of the community reported they have been threatened, assaulted, disturbed or woken up at all hours of the day and night by Aladdin residents.
The lack of outside security at the Aladdin has significant adverse impact on the quality of life on our block--so much so that some long-time community members said they wanted to move away. The community demanded to know who is responsible and who can be held accountable for these glaring failures. Our elected officials? DHS? Housing Solutions USA? NYPD? The Aladdin landlord? Protection Plus (the security company hired by the landlord)? Answer: all of the above.
A message was sent loud and clear by the community: there must be accountability for security failures.
2. Trash. Neighbors complained of trash being thrown out the windows of the Aladdin into the alleys and courtyard and onto the roof of Triton gallery. The W 45th St. Block Association gardening committee complained of trash, food, food and beverage containers, beer and liquor bottles, and other refuse being dumped daily into the tree pits and flower beds--an unsightly mess that also attracts rats. Several neighbors complained about trash and mess on the sidewalk and curb in front of the Aladdin. One neighbor reported that he thought the trash situation was getting better.
Trash is a problem that can be easily solved: the Aladdin needs to clean up its trash.
3. Living Conditions. We learned at tonight's meeting that residents of the Aladdin are not allowed to have air conditioning. At last year's CAC meeting the landlord promised and committed to install fans--he broke that promise. During the hot, humid summer months, Aladdin residents have only two options to cool down: go outside, or gather in the lobby (the only air-conditioned location in a building that houses approx. 300 people). We also learned that Aladdin residents are not allowed to have microwaves or hotplates, so they cannot prepare food on site but must go out for their meals. Residents reported there are no common areas or even chairs to sit down inside the Aladdin lobby. A former resident of the Longacre women's shelter (operating in the same building before it became the Aladdin shelter) said there used to be cooking facilities on every floor, and a large common room (this was converted to office space for Aladdin management). Aladdin residents also reported the elevator was broken for 3 months earlier this year--this in a 9-story building with elderly residents and people on crutches and in wheelchairs.
The descriptions of living conditions at the Aladdin struck a nerve, while the courage of Aladdin residents who spoke out, even when they feared retaliation, earned applause and expressions of sympathy from the community and committee members. The natural, human response to such reports is: Living conditions at the Aladdin must be improved.
The meeting concluded with the police, DHS and representatives from Speaker Quinn's office (Melanie and Michaela) committing to look into the issues, make inspections, contact the landlord, follow-up and report back at the next CAC meeting. As your block association, we also commit to follow-up and see that these problems are addressed and solved.