Forum Photo by Michael V. Cusenza
Attorney Christopher Murray briefly discussed the lawsuit Tuesday outside the location of the proposed shelter.
By Michael V. Cusenza
It seems that the Ozone Park community that is vehemently opposed to the City’s plan to establish a homeless shelter for 113 single adult men with mental illness on 101st Avenue and 86th Street is digging in its heels—preparing for a drawn-out war, not a single battle with the de Blasio administration.
This week saw the saga take a sharp turn as attorney Christopher Murray filed a lawsuit in Queens court against Mayor Bill de Blasio, City Department of Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks, Lantern Community Services (shelter operator), and 101 Realty Group LLC (landlord).
Additionally this week, president of the newly minted Ozone Park Residents Block Association, Sam Esposito, embarked on a hunger strike, setting up shop right outside the proposed site and foregoing food until de Blasio and Banks “are willing to meet and discuss moving this shelter from its present location.”
“I haven’t eaten, and I’m not going to eat until this is resolved,” Esposito said on Tuesday. “The entire community is scared of what’s to come.”
Murray blasted Hizzoner and DSS for their handling of the homeless crisis that has gripped the city for the last several years.
“This administration refuses to engage communities, and worst of all they don’t comply with their legal requirements,” Murray said. “They’re going forward, quite frankly, illegally with installing these shelters.”
According to the attorney, among the regulations the administration is skirting is occupancy. Such a shelter calls for no more than 48 beds. The City is looking to accommodate more than double that number.
“It’s a reckless, inconsiderate, negligent way of approaching a problem,” Murray added.
In June, a City official indicated via email that the Department of Homeless Services 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.”
Last month, Esposito, a former member of Community Board 9, organized a town hall meeting at Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary church in Ozone Park. More than 700 people attended and watched representatives from DHS and Lantern absorb impassioned diatribes from elected official and members of the community.
“We did not invest to stay here to live in fear,” Esposito said at the July confab. “We must take a stand now or we’re going to lose Ozone Park.”
On Tuesday, State Sen. Joe Addabbo, Jr. (D-Howard Beach) once again did not blunt the contempt he has for the current administration, characterizing it as “deaf to our community’s needs.”
“It is absolutely unacceptable that good people have to hire an attorney to protect their neighborhood,” the Ozone Park native and resident said. “They don’t have a vision. There is a far better way to serve the homeless. Prior administrations were helping homeless people—this administration refuses.”
Addabbo also noted that since the shelter news broke, constituents are calling with myriad concerns.
“Parents are horrified and scared,” he said. “It just gets worse.”