More than 100 people turned out on a chilly morning to rally against the proposed shelter for 200 homeless men, which is expected to open in the first quarter of 2020.
Carol Deneen from Middle Village said she would prefer that the facility become a District 75 school for special needs children. She said it’s a “perfect site” for buses to come in and out, and for cars to pick up and drop off students.
“Don’t they think special needs children matter?” Deneen said. “Don’t they think they count?”
Mike Papa from the Glendale-Middle Village Coalition led the protest. He called the facility not a homeless shelter, but a “halfway house” for “ex-convicts and sexual offenders” coming out of incarceration.
He noted that there are several schools and programs for kids around the area.
“This is not the place for this facility,” Papa said. “These people are not our problem, and they don’t belong in the community.”
What the community needs, he said, is affordable housing, a daycare center, senior center and District 75 school.
Papa claimed that the city is “illegally converting” the abandoned and contaminated industrial site into a “$62.5 million cash cow.”
“What’s happening in this building is illegal, and it’s nothing short of organized crime,” he said. “Mayor de Blasio is the head of the family.”
The shelter opponent added that the contract is “not a done deal yet,” which is why he was suspicious that Westhab would host a job fair for a contract they haven’t won yet.
“Could it be that they already know the fix is in with the help of corrupt city government officials?” Papa said.
The Glendale-Middle Village Coalition has filed two lawsuits to halt the project. The first is an Article 78 proceeding against the Department of Homeless Services (DHS).
The second is a legal challenge against the Department of Buildings (DOB) for the building plans. Papa claimed that the agency is “obstructing the legal process” by refusing to issue an official written denial, which is needed for the case to go before the Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA).
“We have every intention of winning,” he said. “This will not be easy.”
At the protest, residents opposed to the shelter got some reassurance from Rockaway Beach activist Torey Schnupp, who has led opposition to a proposed homeless shelter in her neighborhood.
“We have to stop it now, we have to be strong,” she said. “We have to work together and unite as Queens, unite as a city.”
Schnupp said their lawsuit against the city resulted in a temporary restraining order, which was later extended. She said there will be “more to come” in their fight.
“You’ve got to file lawsuits, you’ve got to keep fighting and keep your voices heard,” she said. “Please don’t quit.”
Councilman Robert Holden recounted for the protesters how he was told by the city that the Cooper Avenue site would be a District 75 school until they “pulled the rug out from under us” in the eleventh hour.
He said the School Construction Authority (SCA) loved the site because smaller school buses could fit on the property.
“There’s not property like this all over the city,” Holden said.
The councilman pledged to keep fighting against the shelter.
“They can interview all the security guards they want, but it’s not going to open right away,” he added. “If it does open, we will still be here.”
State Senator Joseph Addabbo said at the protest that he’s co-sponsoring a bill in the state legislature that requires homeless shelters of this size to go through the Uniformed Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), which will give elected officials and community boards more of a say in the process.
“This bill will tell the mayor and the developers that they can no longer do this to us,” he said.
DHS spokesperson Arianna Fishman said in a statement that an employment fair like the one Westhab hosted represents what their “Turn the Tide” plan is all about: positive community engagement, connecting New Yorkers to job opportunities and hiring locally where appropriate.
“We’re all for debate and dialogue, which is why we participate in public meetings and solicit feedback, including for this site and community,” she said, “but protesting a job fair for folks in need is a profoundly disappointing new low.
“We remain focused on empowering, not stigmatizing, those we serve,” Fishman added, “and will continue to provide shelter and employment services to hardworking New Yorkers experiencing homelessness from Queens to help them get back on their feet.”