West Side Spirit: Shelter’s Milestone Marks End of Era

Valley Lodge, an UWS fixture for 30 years, prepares to vacate longtime home to make way for major senior affordable housing project

Each May 3, current and former residents of Valley Lodge gather to sing, eat and celebrate the Upper West Side shelter’s work helping homeless residents age 50 and older transition to permanent housing. The annual anniversary party is always a festive occasion, but this year’s event held special significance — it marked not only Valley Lodge’s 30th anniversary, but also the coed shelter’s final days in the West 108th Street location it has called home for its entire history.

“We are going to celebrate by literally knocking the building down,” joked Paul Freitag, executive director of the West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing, or WSFSSH, the nonprofit that runs Valley Lodge and 25 other buildings serving low-income residents in Manhattan and the Bronx.

Valley Lodge, along with two neighboring parking garages, will soon be demolished to make way for a new affordable housing development that will include a modernized and expanded shelter facility, along with 194 units of affordable housing on West 108th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues.

Karen Jorgensen, Valley Lodge’s director, has been with the shelter since its inception and was on site when two former tenement buildings were gut renovated and converted into the 92-bed facility, which opened in 1988 and was among the first privately operated shelters contracted by the city. Over three decades, she has watched the shelter’s residents change along with the surrounding Manhattan Valley neighborhood.

“Back in 1988, many of the folks who came here had severe mental health issues or major substance abuse or alcohol issues.” Jorgensen said. “Now we find the preponderance of folks are here for economic reasons. There are just not enough affordable apartments.”

WSFSSH at West 108, as the new development is known, will feature a new Valley Lodge with 18 additional beds, as well as supportive housing and apartments for low-income families and seniors. The project also includes meeting spaces for local groups and a community health center, as well as the addition of public restrooms and other improvements to an adjacent playground. A planned second phase of the project will include another 81 units of affordable housing and require the demolition of a third garage on the block.

The development, approved unanimously by the City Council in April, was bitterly opposed by some neighbors concerned about noise and other disruptions during construction and the loss of hundreds of parking spaces in the city-owned garages.


Mark Levine, who represents the neighborhood in the City Council, hailed the project as a “huge win for our community” in an emailed statement. “Over the past two years my office and I have conducted extensive community engagement on this issue, and at every turn, one fact was made unequivocally clear: the overwhelming majority of residents in my district believe we need to prioritize subsidized housing over subsidized parking,” Levine said.

In the weeks to come, Valley Lodge staff and residents will begin relocating to a temporary location a mile away, in another WSFSSH building on West 85th Street. Demolition of the existing Valley Lodge building is expected commence this summer, and the shelter hopes to move back to West 108th Street within three years.

An enduring sense of community was evident at the final anniversary party at the old Valley Lodge, as dozens of current and former residents, staff, friends and family gathered and reminisced, surrounded by art created by residents and accompanied by music sung by the shelter’s choir. “What I see is that people make friends here who they never knew before, and when they leave they have this support network they stay in touch with,” Jorgensen said.

Jorgensen recognized returning alumni in order of the year they graduated to permanent housing and gave a toast to Valley Lodge (“cheers to 30 years”), with sparkling apple cider standing in for champagne.

Valley Lodge alumna Carol Fasolino — Class of 2002 — was among the former residents who returned for the event. She now lives in Washington Heights but still comes back to the shelter regularly to tap dance for residents. “I’m not going to forget the people here,” she said. “They deserve the best.”

Fasolino didn’t hesitate when asked if she’d continue visiting Valley Lodge at its temporary home on West 85th Street. “Yes, indeed,” she said. “I will still come.”

During its performance at the anniversary party, the Valley Lodge Choir acknowledged the impending shuffle with a waggish twist on the lyrics of the old spiritual “We Shall Not Be Moved”:

“We shall be, we shall be moved/We shall be, we shall be moved/To a place a little bit south of here/We shall be moved.”

Michael Garofalo: reporter@strausnews.com

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