Residents of the heavily Irish Woodlawn area of the Bronx, and neighboring Yonkers, are furious that St. Barnabas Church is considering selling its vacant convent on East 240th Street to a group that provides a shelter for female ex-convicts and their children.
At a scheduled Monday night meeting of the Woodlawn Taxpayers group in the St. Barnabas school cafeteria, St. Barnabas Monsignor Edward Barry was due to present three different proposals for the $850,000 sale of the convent, the most controversial being the one offered by Hour Children, a non-profit group that says its mission is to “help incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women and their children successfully rejoin the community, reunify with their families, and build healthy, independent and secure lives.”
Flyers have been passed around the neighborhood urging a halt in weekly parishioner donations to St. Barnabas over the controversial sale. “Monsignor Barry asks for your weekly donations but NOT your thoughts on selling the convent. Monsignor Barry needs to hear that we DO NOT want another Doe Fund homeless shelter in our neighborhood,” said one flyer.
A huge crowd attended the meeting on Monday evening to hear the presentations, but Barry, according to people who spoke to the Irish Voice, declined to proceed because he felt the audience would not give Hour Children a fair hearing.
Backers of the other two potential owners of the convent, a local who wants to open a bed and breakfast and an out-of-towner who would use the space as a funeral parlor, were not present to state their cases to the crowd, leading some to believe that the sale to Hour Children is a fait acccompli.
“We are extremely concerned for our community and residents about Hour Children,” Erin Lee, president of the Women of Woodlawn group, told the Irish Voice.
“Some of the women who are offered housing have been convicted of violent crimes. ”
The convent is situated right near the St. Barnabas elementary and high schools, also giving locals cause for concern. Overcrowding of public schools remains a big issue in the Woodlawn community, and residents are hard-pressed to understand why St. Barnabas would add to the problem by bringing more youngsters into a system that is operating at nearly double capacity, with 10 Woodlawn children being denied entry to kindergarten this year in the local PS 19 because of lack of space.
Residents, Lee says, are supportive of having a new business purchase the convent, such as the funeral home or bed and breakfast. They also feel the convent could be put to excellent use by rehabbing it to accommodate the overflow at PS 19, which currently leases space from St. Barnabas to house its pre-kindergarten program.
“We want to have input into what’s going on,” said Lee, who added that a shelter for mentally ill men called Project Renewal that opened in nearby Wakefield has resulted in a crime spike and increase in 911 calls to the local precinct.
“Our concerns are valid and they need to be addressed,” said Lee.
An attempt to reach Monsignor Barry by the Irish Voice on Tuesday was unsuccessful.