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Brooklyn Heights Synagogue shelter opens to men

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The respite bed shelter at the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue is getting a sex change.

After twenty years providing temporary sanctuary for homeless women, last week the synagogue changed focus to become an all-male shelter.

“Some nights we only had two women,” said Anne Landman, one of the coordinators of the 10-bed shelter.

CAMBA – a nonprofit organization that runs shelter programs in religious and community centers around New York City – recently announced that two of its all-male shelters were closing down, prompting the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue to rethink its mission.

“We realized we are here to meet the needs of the homeless population,” Landman said, and changing to accommodate the displaced men was the best way to do it.

CAMBA is now directing the women who had stayed at the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue shelter on Remsen Street between Henry Street and Clinton Street, to other shelters it runs.

Bed vacancies are a frequent risk for shelters that exclusively house women. Women make up less than a third of all New Yorkers who take refuge in single adult shelters, according to statistics from the city’s Department of Homeless Services. Instead, homeless women more frequently turn to family shelters, since they often have with children with them.

The Brooklyn Heights Synagogue has housed men before. When the shelter first opened in 1984, it was as an all-male shelter. Then about 20 years ago, it switched to an all-women’s shelter to fill a gap in city homeless services. Now, organizers say, there is more of a need for men’s shelters.

One CAMBA-run all-male shelter, with space provided by Bushwick’s Mt. Paran Baptist Church, closed its doors for good Dec. 29. The church had been housing homeless men for about 20 years, said Pastor Susie Elliott, the president of the Brooklyn Council of Churches.

“That’s a long run,” said Pastor Susie Elliott. “It’s time for us to be able to use our own space when we need it.”

The room that used to house homeless men will be used as an office and to host functions.

“We felt it was time, and that someone else would kind of take on the burden,” Elliott said.

In stepped the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue – where the shelter room already serves multiple purposes.

“It’s used in day for preschool,” said Andrea Feller, another coordinator at the shelter. “By night custodians put away the big plastic toys that are there and set up the beds.”

Reach reporter Jaime Lutz at jlutz@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-8310. Follow her on Twitter @jaime_lutz.

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