After months of rumors, Community Board 5 discussions and angry statements from elected officials, it was finally time for the Glendale community to speak up regarding the homeless shelter proposed for 78-16 Cooper Ave.
And its collective voice was heard loud and clear.
With Department of Homeless Services Assistant Commissioner of Government and Human Relations Lisa Black and Samaritan Village Executive Vice President Doug Apple, in attendance, approximately 25 of the nearly 200 residents in attendance at Christ The King High School on Thursday vehemently spoke out against the plan.
They called the 125-family structure, proposed by the nonprofit Samaritan Village, to be built at the potentially contaminated site of a former airplane factory everything from “unsafe” and “dangerous” to “criminal” and “disgraceful.”
Steve McGarry, a 23-year Glendale resident, questioned the area sewers’ ability to handle hundreds of extra toilet flushes and showers per day, saying some residents basements flood “if a squirrel spits,” as well as the possibility that the lot the building sits on is toxic.
“The fact that an environmental study has to be done to test the toxicity level at the building itself … means that you should have walked away,” McGarry said. “To me, it’s criminal to house people, especially children, in an area where they will get sick.”
DHS and the Briarwood-based human services agency have a five year, $27 million contract in place regarding the operation of the shelter, but Black emphasized the deal is not final, as the environmental study of the plot has yet to be completed.
Another Glendale resident, Timon Kalpaxis, echoed McGarry’s concerns about inadequate infrastructure, claiming the shelter would not only be out of place in an industrial area, but that Cooper Avenue itself and lack of public transportation will lead to numerous safety issues.
“It is quite problematic to try to put something with a very large footprint like a homeless shelter in there with 125 families,” Kalpaxis said. “If you take a look at properties around there, how much more development can the community stand? Does somebody have to die first on one of those roads before we take a pause and say ‘Maybe that’s enough'?”
The strongest words against the shelter were saved for the night’s final speaker, CB 5 District Manager Gary Giordano.
After thanking the audience for coming out in droves to lend their voices in opposition to the plan, Giordano laid into DHS and Samaritan Village.
“I think it’s disgraceful this plan has got this far,” Giordano said. “I don’t think you can pick a much worse site. Something very suspicious is going on here, in my mind.”
Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Glendale), state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) and Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven) also voiced their opinions in opposition to the shelter at the hearing, with all three backing up their constituents.
Some residents brought up a proposal earlier this year to turn the closed Pan American Hotel at 79-99 Queens Blvd. in Elmhurst, which has since reopened, into a homeless shelter.
Black confirmed the proposal was immediately denied by DHS, citing the lack of a kitchen and a bathroom in each unit. Residents didn’t take too kindly to Black’s reasoning as some booed and shouted about the relative simplicity of renovating the hotel as opposed to the Glendale site.