Categorized | Bronx Neighborhoods

Welcome Center for Homeless – First of its Kind – Opens in the Bronx

Samuel Lee, 43, a poet, sat outside The Bronx Welcome Center, pen and paper in hand. Two weeks ago he was living on the streets, now he sleeps in a bed at a hotel-turned-shelter in Morrisania. 

“I lost my job,” Lee said. He worked as a food delivery worker, when his landlord evicted him because he was unable to pay rent. He was sleeping at a subway station when an outreach team approached him and brought him to the welcome center. 

The Bronx Welcome Center, the first of its kind in New York City, opened in March as a part of Mayor Eric Adam’s Subway Safety Plan. According to the plan subways “are not meant to house individuals,” and so the city will enforce “the subway system’s rules of conduct.” These include prohibitions against sleeping or dozing “where such activity may be hazardous” to the person sleeping or others, “or may interfere with… the comfort of its passengers.” Occupying “more than one seat on a station, platform or conveyance when to do so would interfere… with the comfort of other passengers” is also against the rules, as is lying on the floor, platform, stairway, elevator, escalator, landing or conveyance. According to the Public Authorities Law the transit system has the authority to make such rules, breaching them is imposed with a $50 fine.

The city works with homeless outreach teams from five local organizations, such as the Bowery Residents’ Committee, as well as Transit Hub teams from NYPD’s Transit Bureau. The outreach workers and the police focus on the “highest-need” subway stations such as Grand Central Terminal and Penn Station. In January more than 1,000 police officers were assigned to enforce the subway’s rules. According to New York City Homeless Assistance, New Yorkers can also call 311 to “request assistance for a homeless person” and the Department of Homeless Services will send an outreach team within an hour. The Subway Safety Plan states people are encouraged, but not forced to go with the outreach team to a shelter such as The Bronx Welcome Center.

The welcome centers function as way stations between the streets and other shelters, according to a spokesperson from the DHS and Department of Social Services. The centers are geared toward the specific needs of people who are not ready for independent permanent housing because of issues such as drug abuse or mental health problems. The Bronx center has between 80 and 90 beds. The program prioritizes the immediate needs and basic necessities of the clients, according to the DHS spokesperson. The requirements to be admitted are low. There is no strict time limit on how long a person stays at the welcome center, the DHS usually anticipates people staying for a few weeks up to a month, but the goal is to expedite the process of transitioning the clients to another shelter appropriate for their unique needs. The DHS/DSS spokesperson said the clients staying at the center are aware that they will eventually be transferred to other facilities and not permanent housing. But when Bronx Ink visited The Bronx Welcome Center, some residents were unclear as to what will happen to them next.

“No one has told me nothing,” said Tomas Arrocho, when asked how long he will stay at the welcome center and where he will go next.

Arrocho had been living on the streets of Manhattan for 10 years. Despite the welcome center’s intent of expedited processing, he has been there for almost three months. He was picked up by an outreach worker in a neighborhood in Manhattan.

“I’m not going to another shelter. I’d rather go back to the streets,” Arrocho said, echoing the words of other residents at the center that Bronx Ink spoke with.

Lee, however, was informed of the center’s policy by the outreach team and the welcome center.

“My time is almost up, we’re only allowed to stay here for three, four months,” Lee said when Bronx Ink spoke to him a few weeks later. He has now been at the center for over a month. 

“I’ll go from this shelter to another shelter and then to something permanent,” Lee said. But depending on how long that takes, and if he does not like the other shelter, he is planning to find permanent housing by himself. He recently got his job back as a food delivery worker and will try and save money for a studio apartment in The Bronx.

The DHS and DSS have not disclosed how many people The Bronx Welcome Center is housing, despite a request for that number at a Community Board 3 meeting Sept. 6th, and repeated queries from Bronx Ink.

“This all sounds very good,” said Paul Navarro, a community board member, to the DHS officials at the September meeting. “But how are we supposed to know if you are successful if we don’t know how many people you are housing?”

Navarro said without the numbers the presentation was incomplete, and that the agencies needed to come back with numbers.

Lee, the poet, hopes to one day publish a book. With headphones, immersed in his writing, he wandered back and forth in the parking lot outside the welcome center.

“Keep going, don’t give up,” he wrote in his notebook. “You could be an inspiration to someone else.”

The Bronx Welcome Center has not disclosed the number of people it has housed despite a request from the local community board, and repeated queries from Bronx Ink.

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