WELCOME, NEIGHBOR

While some want to flip new residents the bird, others offer ones with stuffing

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Thanksgiving has come a little early for the community’s newest residents.

Welcoming Neighbors Northwest Bronx — a community group organized in recent months after city officials announced a new transitional housing facility on Broadway — delivered turkey and other Thanksgiving essentials to the doors of the formerly homeless families at 5731 Broadway. 

It was the group’s way to ensure that no matter how long it’s been since these families have had a proper Thanksgiving dinner, they would certainly have one this year, said Ivan Braun, one of the organizers.

“We thought it could be helpful to provide people with the ingredients for a Thanksgiving dinner,” Braun said. “Whether they eat it all as Thanksgiving dinner or not is up to them.”

Along with the signature turkey that ties the November holiday together, Braun and Welcoming Neighbors provided other offerings like rice and beans, macaroni and cheese, yams, and stuffing mix. The effort was made possible by an online fundraising campaign that collected more than $2,000.

The opening of 5731 Broadway — originally proposed and built as market-rate housing — has been quite controversial in its Kingsbridge neighborhood. Community Board 8 members as well as some of the homes and businesses nearby cried foul when the property’s developer, Stagg Group, appeared to switch gears and sign a multimillion-dollar deal with the city. 

Government officials then brought in Praxis Housing Initiatives to run the facility, which can offer living space to more than 80 families. 

Welcoming Neighbors, which has since grown to about 50 members, teamed up with Praxis to provide the families community support when they needed it — everything from finding jobs to tutoring children.

“A number of us had a little more experience with homeless facilities and homeless people and felt it made sense to … welcome the families that were going to be living there,” Braun said.

Yet, Thanksgiving wasn’t the first time Welcoming Neighbors brought the holidays to the transitional facility. On Halloween, members threw a party for all of the children in the building.

Both the efforts so far has helped the families at 5731 Broadway feel included in the community, Braun said.

“I think they’re pleasantly surprised that there are people in the community that are welcoming them,” he said. “They read the newspaper too and have seen some of the less-than-welcoming comments that have been made.”

As for the transitional housing facility critics, Welcoming Neighbors as an organization has stayed out of the fray, Braun said, instead focusing its attention helping the families and creating better first impressions.

“People find themselves homeless for a lot of reasons,” he said. “And they’re normal people like everyone else. I think many of the fears that were expressed at some of the meetings leading up to the opening to this building are unfounded. 

“And I believe if people get to know the residents who are living there, they’ll realize that their fears are unfounded and that their feelings about it will soften.” 

As the end of the year approaches, Welcoming Neighbors plans to give to the families at 5731 Broadway once more for the holidays. 

While there are no talks to expand Welcoming Neighbors at the moment, if other transitional homeless facilities appear in the area at some point in the future, Braun thinks it would be a great opportunity for people to learn how to get involved. 

“Hopefully all of this will be part of a community education process so that we all learn a little bit more about homelessness in this city and what we can all do to help alleviate it,” he said. 

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