The Sumner Armory, located on Marcus Garvey and Jefferson Avenues in Bedford-Stuyvesant, for years has sheltered men who are homeless and destitute with hopes of one day becoming productive citizens.
But a tug-of-war between the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) and Bed-Stuy's community board places the future of the armory in serious question.
Community Board 3 currently is working to convert a portion of Sumner Armory, the largest in the city, into a community space -- one that will house a community center, basketball court, bowling alley and track and field.
Currently, in Bed-Stuy, there is only one other recreational outlet, the YMCA on Bedford Avenue. According to Henry Butler, chairman of Community Board 3, Sumner Armory’s rehabilitation will mirror the successful model used to rehabilitate the Park Slope Armory.
But if things go as planned, State Senator Velmanette Montgomery and Council Member Al Vann together have formed a committee with plans to make Sumner Armory even better than Park Slope and Harlem armories combined. Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz has committed $2 million to improve both the Bed-Stuy and Sumner Avenue Armories.
The committee of members are made up of elected officials and representatives of the community. Community Board 3 also is working with Pratt Institute to assess and map out the architectural layout of the armory.
“We know the process is not going to happen overnight, it may take five or six years. The plan is still in the infancy stage,” said Butler. The entire process to complete the Park Slope armory took about eight years. "The committee is looking over the proposal with Pratt. Pratt is conducting a feasibility study, looking at the stages of building development .”
But plans for the armory's expansion may be thwarted, as there have been multiple sightings of beds and equipment moved into the space, while men were being dropped off at the Armory at odd times of the night.
The attempt to overflow the facility with potentially unsavory men has local residents wondering what else was going on with the armory, while the Department of Homeless Services, who is responsible for placing homeless residents in the shelter, for years has ignored the communities cries against expansion.
"The Department of Homeless Services’ legal ability to move additional homeless men into the Sumner Armory is questionable given local law that limits the capacity of homeless shelters,” said Council Member Al Vann.
“Any decision to move forward on this not only may precipitate legal action, but would display utter disregard for the community’s desire to establish this as a multi-purpose facility with community recreational space alongside the current Pamoja House shelter. Our community is not opposed to taking care of our homeless residents, but we object to the warehouse-type shelter that DHS seems to be promoting as not in the best interest of the shelter residents, the community nor our city.”
Calls to DHS were not returned after repeated attempts to get their input on the plans.
“Regardless of the situation, we are moving forward with our plans to make part of the armory a community space,” said Mark Zustovich, spokesperson for Marty Markowitz’s office. "We want residents and the homeless to work together in the space where they can co-exist."
“In cases of emergency such as a bitterly cold night, there may be a need to place these men somewhere. That may be in the Sumner Armory and if there are 140 beds occupied, then they will only accept 60 more for the night. The maximum number of men allowed at the Sumner Armory is 200, no more,” said Butler.
Butler will continue to update the community as the process moves forward. In the meantime, residents residing within the district of Community Board 3 are encouraged to attend all monthly meetings on the first Monday of every month.