It’s been just over three weeks since the Borden Avenue Veterans Residence reopened after closing its doors in mid August. Despite renovations made to the facility, some say little has changed.
At a press conference held at the Salvation Army shelter days before its scheduled closure, several residents stepped forward to voice their concerns. Many were unsure where they’d be placed during the shelter’s renovation. Others complained about violence and drug and alcohol abuse at the facility. Several said they had received housing vouchers for placement haphazardly and were expected to pack up and relocate within a day’s time.
Pat Toro, president of Vietnam Veterans of America Queens Chapter 32, in Glendale, said he had been monitoring the facility, and after many complaints, called on Councilman Eric Gioia for assistance. Gioia called for an immediate investigation of the facility.
But Toro said now that the shelter has re-opened, he still has concerns — especially since its capacity has now been reduced.
The 410-bed facility has been transformed into a 243-bed shelter with semi-private rooms. According to Eric Deutsch, deputy press secretary for the Department of Homeless Services, every client now has a secured room with a bed, desk and chair, storage space and a tack board. The shelter will also operate as a coed facility.
“The main programmatic change following the renovation is the level of intensity of the social services offered to clients at Borden,” Deutsch noted, adding that the number of cases assigned to each case manager has been reduced.
According to him, shelter residents were placed in permanent housing, or relocated to another DHS shelter on 30th Street during renovations. But some former and current shelter residents have a different story to tell.
James Johnson, a Marine during the Vietnam War, lived at the Borden Avenue shelter prior to renovations. He claims he was promised housing — yet despite receiving a voucher, hasn’t had any help securing permanent placement. He went to another shelter during renovations, and is now living with friends in Long Island City as he continues searching for a home.
“I didn’t come back (to the shelter) because they promised me housing,” he said. “Why come back to this?”
Johnson claimed he was told he’d have to pay to return to the facility after it re-opened. Deutsch said the shelter doesn’t require its clients to pay a fee.
“It’s hard to stay motivated when, because of the system, a lot of people gave up,” Johnson said. “We still have no support group from the community or the government.”
Clayton, a member of the Air Force during the Vietnam War, did return to the shelter when it reopened, but has experienced similar trouble finding permanent housing. He said he was listed as “non-compliant” when he refused the first placement offered to him — an assignment he couldn’t accept because he’d have limited mobility with his injured leg.
“I feel incarcerated,” he said, claiming that one of the facility’s new rules requires clients to give their room keys to staff when they leave the building.
Another resident, who did not wish to be identified, said although he’s “not really happy,” having a single room is an improvement. He noted the facility is much cleaner now than it was before the renovation.
For Toro, many of the struggles veterans face today are emblematic of a fight that has been taking place for decades.
“There’s something wrong when 40 years after the Vietnam War, half of your homeless vets are Vietnam vets,” he said.
In a statement, Gioia said he was gravely concerned by conditions brought to his attention by shelter residents before the Borden Avenue facility closed.
“I sincerely hope that things will now be better,” he said, “but I am not yet assured that the city is providing our vets with the full support and respect they deserve.”