Barred from Sheen Center, Nativity housing activists petition

Outside the Sheen Center, a petitioner handed out The Villager’s recent article on the effort to turn the Church of Nativity site into low-income and affordable housing. Photos by Tequila Minsky

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | On Sat., Dec. 16, about 15 people gathered in Noho on the sidewalk outside the Sheen Center to gather signatures on a “supplication” to Archbishop Cardinal Timothy Dolan, asking him to redevelop the vacant Church of the Nativity property in the East Village into low-income and affordable housing. They also handed out copies of a recent article in The Villager about their efforts.

The Catholic-affiliated performing-arts complex, at 18 Bleecker St., was holding an event honoring the late Dorothy Day, who prayed at Nativity, on Second Ave. between E. Second and E. Third Sts., and is currently being considered for canonization.

Adding poignancy to the petitioning effort amid Downtown’s ongoing gentrification, the Sheen Center itself used to be the Holy Name Center, a Catholic-run soup kitchen.

Valerio Orselli, the project director for the Cooper Square Community Land Trust, said the Sheen Center told him they weren’t welcome at the event inside because that would “politicize it.”

The petitioners included members of the Catholic Worker (the movement Day founded), parishioners, local residents and housing activists. Among them were Chino Garcia, the director of CHARAS, Lynn Lewis of the East Harlem C.L.T. and Picture the Homeless, a group working to house the homeless.

Valerio Orselli, head of the Cooper Square Community Land Trust, left, and an ally handing out The Villager article about the push to redevelop the Church of the Nativity site with affordable housing.

The petitioners stuck it out from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. despite the bitter cold.

“Cole Matson from the Sheen Center relented a bit,” Orselli said. “He acknowledged our presence there, took some petitions and copies of The Villager article inside, and agreed to place them inside the gallery space for people to sign, albeit it seems in an isolated place. He collected four signatures for us. We collected over a hundred.”

Signing the supplication — a petition to Cardinal Dolan asking him to allow the former church to be redeveloped as housing for the poor. A photo of Dorothy Day was on the table.

The Nativity activists have collected around 200 signatures so far on what is technically called a “supplication,” not a petition, to Dolan.

“But we have just gotten started,” Orselli vowed. “We are also hearing from folks in other areas who have pledged their support and are interested in starting similar campaigns in their gentrifying neighborhoods, such as East Harlem, where four churches have been desanctified and are for sale.”

The Church of the Nativity on Second Ave. has been closed since July 2015.

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