Several man in blue t-shirts can be often seen after dusk smoking and talking to each other around The Peter Jay Sharp Center for Opportunity at 89 Porter Ave in East Williamsburg, near Brooklyn Fire Proof.

Bushwick has peacefully lived side by side the ‘men in blue’ since 2002. A group of formerly homeless or incarcerated men are all taking a part in a transitional residential work program called “Ready, Willing & Able,” which is operated by The Doe Fund. Their recovery and relative peacefulness of the neighborhood is however threatened as The Department of Homeless Services (DHS) recently decided to remove 50 men at various stages of the program and replace them with sex offenders charged with rape of children and young adults.

The Peter Jay Sharp Center for Opportunity in East Williamsburg (screenshot via Google Maps)

East Williamsburg facility is not equipped to handle sex offenders

“While we pride ourselves in having the best security possible, we are not equipped for sex offenders,” Alexander Horwitz, the Director of External Affairs at The Doe Fund, told us.

The 400-bed program housed at 89 Porter Ave combines paid street cleaning work with vocational training and social services, and is the only one of its kind in New York City.

“The people we serve have been deprived of economic opportunity their entire lives. That deprivation has led to either homelessness or prison. The difference between the population we know how to serve– and serve well– and sex offenders is profound.  We do not have psychiatrists on staff, we have no experience treating or managing sex offender issues, ” Mr Horwitz continued.

DHS-housed sex offenders were responsible for brutal crimes in their neighborhoods

The DHS decision came up in the time following two brutal incidents, both of which occurred in April 2015 and involved sex offenders housed by DHS. A former occupant brutally murdered (and attempted to rape) the shelter director at Project Renewal’s Bronx men’s shelter. Another registered sex offender housed by DHS at Kips Bay shelter raped a college student in a nearby bar.

The idea of an impact that 50 sex offenders housed at a facility, which is not suited to handle them, could have on the Bushwick and East Williamsburg communities sends shivers down one’s spine.

The 1,000 feet rule doesn’t work here

“The reason the administration gives for choosing our Porter Avenue facility is because it’s over 1,000 feet from schools and playgrounds,” Mr Horwitz explained the 1,000 feet rule for housing of sex offenders. “But that rationale ignores the obvious: the female staff who work in our facility, the young men in our youth program also in that facility, the thousands of young women and men who now live and work in Bushwick, and, most importantly, the parks, playgrounds, and schools that are just over 1,000 feet away, some as close as 1,700 feet away.  There’s Maria Hernandez Park, the Williamsburg Charter High School, PS 123…the list goes on. ”

“DHS has failed to invest in solutions for sex offenders and is now attempting to quietly disperse them into the community. We will not allow that to happen,”continued Mr Horwitz.

Law suit and protests

The Doe Fund has sued the City to stop transferring the sex offenders to Bushwick, and the case in court is pending. In the mean time, the organization’s request for a temporary restraining order to bar DHS from sending sex offenders to the facility, has been denied. Since then, DHS has attempted several transfers of sex offenders. In each case, The Doe Fund returned the individuals back to DHS. The ‘men in blue’ have recently protested in front of Mayor de Blasio’s residence as well as in front of DHS headquarters at 33 Beaver St.

What’s going to happen with 50 ‘men in blue’ to be removed from the program?

In the mean time, the fate of 50 ‘men in blue’ to be removed from the program is uncertain. “Sadly, they’ll be taken by DHS and likely placed in what’s known as a “three hots and a cot” style shelter,” Mr Horwitz added. “That is, a shelter with no or very few social services… These men are in the middle of a year-long program that includes paid work, vocational training, classes on everything from financial management to fatherhood, and job placement services.  Their recovery from poverty and homelessness is about to be utterly ruined. It’s an absolute disgrace.”

The Doe Fund has requested that the community helps them to fight the City and shows their support by signing an online petition.

Men in blue protest against DHS decision. (photo via The Doe Fund website)