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May 22, 2003
Appeals Court Allows a Homeless Shelter for Men in Brooklyn

by Diane Cardwell
A state appeals court has cleared the way for a new 400-bed homeless shelter in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, rejecting arguments that the city had improperly sidestepped land use and environmental review procedures in approving the project.

Ruling in a case that pitted residents, business owners and local politicians against a proposal that dates to the Giuliani administration, the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court said on Monday that the city could go ahead with plans for a men's shelter in a vacant factory on Porter Street.

The building is being renovated by the Doe Fund, which provides services to homeless people. In 2000, the nonprofit fund won a 22-year, $176 million contract to operate the shelter as a partial replacement for an 800-bed men's shelter near Bellevue Hospital Center in Manhattan that the Giuliani administration wanted to close. It remains open.

Residents and business owners in the neighborhood, a low-income, industrial area, complained that the shelter would increase crime and attract prostitution. Elected officials and homeless services providers criticized the fact that the city had selected the Doe Fund for a large, long-term contract under an accelerated bidding process.

Opponents sued to stop the project, arguing that it should have been subjected to the city's land use review process, and that a more comprehensive environmental study should have been conducted. That case was dismissed in 2001 and the plaintiffs appealed. That appeal was unanimously rejected Monday by the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court in Brooklyn.

George McDonald, the founder and president of the Doe Fund, said the shelter would be a good neighbor. "Wherever we are people love us because we improve the community," he said.

Despite the legal wrangling, Mr. McDonald said, the shelter should open in early December. Renovation work has already started, since the fund was able to get financing once the first suit was dismissed, he said.

The shelter will house mostly men who are participating or waiting to participate in the fund's Ready, Willing and Able program. That program, which the Doe Fund operates at two other shelters in the city, provides street-cleaning jobs, housing and counseling to homeless people, some with histories of incarceration or substance abuse.

James Anderson, a spokesman for the City Department of Homeless Services, called the decision good news. But Martin S. Needelman, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs, said the decision was "a disaster, really, at a lot of levels." Calling the shelter "a 400-man warehouse," Mr. Needelman said the location was too isolated and lacked amenities, although Mr. McDonald said the men would have all they needed within the shelter's walls.

Mr. Needelman also said that the court's finding created a dangerous legal mechanism for the city to avoid the land use review process, which subjects projects to public scrutiny and City Council approval.

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