Forum Photo by Michael V. Cusenza
The City has said it is planning to open a new shelter for 113 single homeless men with mental illness in this building on 101st Avenue and 86th Street by early 2019.
By Michael V. Cusenza
Ozone Park elected officials and community leaders will soon meet with de Blasio administration representatives regarding the planned site of a City homeless shelter on 101st Avenue and 86th Street, according to the activist who has led the large-scale civic opposition to the facility over the past three months.
“We have a meeting in 10 days with a City official,” Ozone Park Block Association President Sam Esposito said during a rain-soaked rally at the site last Wednesday night.
Since June, when area pols and residents first learned of the administration’s plan to house 113 single adult men with mental illness in the 101st Avenue edifice, Esposito has organized similar protests, a town hall meeting with City Department of Homeless Services officials, and even a two-week-long hunger strike that landed the former Community Board 9 member in the hospital.
“We’re trying to change the narrative,” Esposito said on Wednesday to the crowd gathered across the street from the target building. “We’re not asking to shut the shelter down because obviously we have to have a shelter in our community like everybody does, we have to share the burden. We’re willing to share the burden—but this is not the neighborhood for 113 mentally ill men to come and go as they please with no supervision. That’s really all we’re concerned about.”
Esposito and Ozone Park elected officials have called on the City to change the demographic of the shelter that’s expected to be completed by early 2019; instead of single adult men with mental illness, they’ve proposed homeless senior citizens, families, or women and children be housed at the facility.
The planned site is in very close proximity to several schools and recreational areas.
“When we were here months ago, school wasn’t open; so you saw basically empty sidewalks and the building going up,” State Sen. Joe Addabbo, Jr. (D-Howard Beach) noted during the protest. “Now that the schools are open, you see the reality of what this shelter would mean for this community. We have seen children in strollers, the reality of parents going to PS 64, we have seen the reality of children on our streets—and to think about 113 mentally ill men mixed with these children and these parents with strollers is a reality we don’t want to face. It’s a wrong reality.”
Addabbo spoke to Mayor Bill de Blasio in August and earlier this month and the senator said that Hizzoner has assured him that “nothing is set in stone” regarding the shelter.
“He said that he understands our concerns, and that everything is under consideration,” Addabbo added. “But we can’t let up. We need to still tell him the credible arguments on why this is a wrong idea, why this is a wrong proposal.”
Esposito pledged that the community will not relent.
“We will win. We may not win on our terms today, but we’re going to win this battle,” he said. “Whether it’s now, or three years from now when the new administration comes, we’re going to win this.”