Forum Photos by Michael V. Cusenza
“We demand better. We deserve better. We are better,” Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) said of his home community.
By Michael V. Cusenza
David’s jeers pelted Goliath before he even had a chance to sit down.
Boos rained down on the six officials Thursday night before they made it to their seats on the dais on stage at Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary church in Ozone Park.
The representatives—from the City Department of Homeless Services and Lantern Community Services—endured scorching-hot tongue lashings from elected officials and area residents who are fuming over the City’s plan to establish a homeless shelter for 113 single adult men with mental illness on 101st Avenue and 86th Street later this year.
“This is not a Democratic issue. This is not a Republican issue,” said Sam Esposito, Ozone Park native and former member of Community Board 9, who organized Thursday’s town hall meeting. “This is OUR issue.”
Esposito’s introductory speech elicited raucous cheers from the 700-person strong throng packed into Nativity BVM. He rattled off a litany of recent examples of homeless violence as a possible portent of things to come for this part of Ozone Park.
“It is about our quality of life being interrupted by murders, stabbings, shootings, urinating, sitting on our properties,” Esposito added. “It is about the City’s lack of respect for us and our opinion.”
Upon hearing in May about a possible homeless shelter in the middle of 101st Avenue, Esposito said he bounded down to City Councilman Eric Ulrich’s (R-Ozone Park) district office. Ulrich’s Chief of Staff Kevin Tschirhart reached out to DHS, pressing the speaker button on the phone so Esposito could hear the agency official promise that no shelter would be established in the heart of Ozone Park.
“I believe DHS thought we would just roll over and play dead,” Esposito said.
Last month, a City official indicated that DHS had already notified area elected officials and the community board that “we’re opening a new shelter [at] 85-15 101st Avenue, Ozone Park, for 113 single adult males with mental illness.”
“We did not invest to stay here to live in fear,” Esposito said. “We must take a stand now or we’re going to lose Ozone Park.”
Elected officials who delivered remarks on Thursday reserved their most scathing critiques for Mayor Bill de Blasio.
“The only reason we’re here is because of the ineptness of the mayor and the way he’s handling the [homeless] issue,” said State Sen. Joe Addabbo, Jr. (D-Howard Beach), who delivered an emotional two-minute diatribe and left a standing ovation in his wake. “Look what you’ve done here: You’ve created fear, animosity, and anger that I haven’t seen from any prior administration.”
Addabbo noted that the City set an Aug. 5 deadline for the community to offer an alternate site for the shelter. The senator said that’s just not enough.
“As a person born, raised, and raising a family in Ozone Park, I’ve got to tell you: I’ve got to fight this,” Addabbo warned.
Ulrich, who was born in a house three blocks from the proposed shelter site, praised Addabbo and then ripped de Blasio for his “gross mismanagement” of the city.
“Take our voices, concerns, and demands back to the person who is responsible this mess in the first place,” Ulrich said before encouraging his constituents to keep fighting.
“We demand better. We deserve better. We are better,” the councilman added.