The fight over a proposed family homeless shelter in Glendale got the attention of Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), a Democratic candidate for borough president.
Vallone gathered with residents and civic leaders from Glendale, Middle Village and Maspeth near the site of the proposed 125-family shelter at 78-16 Cooper Ave. on Friday to demand the proposal be killed.
ìThis is not the place for a homeless shelter like this,î Vallone said at the rally outside the Artistic Stitch Sports Complex next door to the proposed center. ìItís the wrong location and itís the wrong size.î
Vallone said he is not opposed to smaller shelters, but a large one like the one proposed is not right for any community.
"These people have been taking care of the homeless for a long time, in small shelters, in small groups," he said. "They have had homeless shelters in the past and they've been defunded. No neighborhood could absorb 125 homeless families in one shot."
Currently, there are no homeless shelters within Community Board 5, which includes Maspeth, Middle Village, Glendale and Ridgewood.
Vallone noted that the site is in an already-crowded school district that would be forced to absorb the children of the families that would be housed at the shelter.
The plan has received opposition from most of the surrounding community. Civic leaders have gathered 4,000 signatures on a petition opposing the shelter circulated by Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village).
The 105,000-square-foot building is the site of a former factory that has been closed for more than 20 years, and the proposal was submitted by Samaritan Village, a Bronx-based organization. It is located just a few blocks west of The Shops at Atlas Park near the border of Glendale and Middle Village.
Heather Janik, spokeswoman for the city Department of Homeless Services, said the agency is reviewing the application given to them by Samaritan Village.
"DHS received a proposal to serve families with children in Queens and, as with all proposals that we receive, we will carefully review and consider this one," she said.
The agency has argued the shelter is needed to keep up with the growing need among the city's homeless population — a problem, Vallone argued, that was created from a judge's ruling more than three decades ago.
In 1979, the New York State Supreme Court ruled that New York City must offer shelter to anyone who seeks it. That ruling was expanded in 1986 to include families.
"The courts have taken over the homeless system and said anyone is entitled to shelter," Vallone said, adding that the court ruling ties the city's hands so it can't check to see if a person seeking shelter actually needs it. He argued that the ruling has made New York City a destination for the nation's homeless population.
"We have people coming from all over the country for free housing," Vallone said.
Bob Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, said the location makes no sense because it is in a relatively remote part of the borough.
"This is a solid middle-class neighborhood," Holden said. "We donít have subways here, we take buses. If you put a homeless shelter here, where is the public transportation?"
Lorraine Sciulli, first vice president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, said her concern is with the families who would be housed in the building, which sits on a former industrial site that may be contaminated.
"The city doesn't care about homeless people," she said. "They'll put them on a brownfield, they'll put them in a toxic building, they don't care. This building was not good enough for a school and for other uses in the neighborhood, but for homeless people itís fine?"
Sciulli said the cost of bringing the building up to par may not make the shelter worth it.
"How much money is it going to take to clean this up so the homeless families can live there?"
Holden said he is sure the community could defeat the shelter plan.
"Every mayor since Robert Wagner has proposed a homeless shelter in Middle Village and we've defeated it," he said, further stating that if the city wanted to house people at the site, they should consider a senior housing development.