“It’s not so good, huh?” laughs Kathleen Webster, president of the Sara D. Roosevelt Park Coalition as she refers to the D- grade that the park received from New Yorkers for Parks. The near-failing grade was issued last year by the nonprofit whose research and policy recommendations help in advocating for more equitably distributed, sustainable and well-maintained parks in the city.
The grade proves what’s already obvious from the decrepit structures that litter the park: It’s in need of maintenance. But Community Board 3’s request for funding was denied in the city budget that came out a couple of weeks ago. In fact, most requests concerning parks were denied due to insufficient funds. “The parks department doesn’t have a discrete budget, which is part of the problem,” says Webster.
Because of the money crunch, the department relies on funding from elected officials. As a consequence, communities have to advocate for their parks, approach the borough president and city council members in an attempt to get funding through one avenue or another. Sara D. Roosevelt Park is no stranger to this process. Advocates who want to turn a red-brick building on the northern side of the park into a community center have staged awareness campaigns and brainstorming sessions, as well as meetings in tandem with officials and local nonprofits.
The plan remains to reclaim the Stanton Building as a resilience center, a place to share skills such as fixing bikes and shopping carts, and perhaps even as an information center for the homeless. While Webster doesn’t claim to speak for the entire community, she says all of the people she’s contacted so far are happy to do something for the homeless persons who often congregate at the park. “Everybody knows that we are on hard times and that we want to figure out a way to share this park and we don’t ever, ever ask that the homeless not be full community members,” she says.In this regard, last week’s denial of funds hasn’t dampened the fighting spirit. The Coalition is now trying to get funding through Councilwoman Margaret Chin, who is publicly allied with their cause. Speaking of last month’s meeting with the parks department and the Department of Homeless Services (DHS), Webster says, “We really do hope that our council member can convince the administration that this would be a win-win for everybody.”
In the meanwhile, the Coalition is waiting for the parks department to approve a Request for Special Permission for a nonprofit to come in and run the park. They would then take over and start private fundraising. They are already in talks with the members of a luxury condo and the high-end Ian Schrager building across the street from the park, both of whom have expressed interest in helping.
But it’s not just about shining up the park’s amenities– this fight for funding is very much about providing a service for the downtrodden members of the community at large. The proposed homeless drop-in center would help re-direct folks to local organizations that can better serve their needs, help them replace lost or stolen ID cards (without which they can’t enter a shelter) and, at the very least, be a place where they can sit for a minute or two. Webster vouches for the socially-minded community, saying “They’re a good and generous folk. And they also know that there’s a crisis of homelessness. And you know, we would do our share. It’s a big ask for a neighborhood, I get that, but this neighborhood has always risen to the occasion and I believe we will [again].”