The city Department of Homeless Services gave Community Board 10 an update last month on the situation at the Skyway men’s homeless shelter on South Conduit Avenue near JFK Airport.
The shelter housed families until it switched to a men’s shelter in February, 2011 — a move which led to anger and concern among residents in South Ozone Park, especially those in the PS 124 community. The school is located just a few blocks west of the shelter.
Parents and staff at the school, along with CB 10 chairwoman Betty Braton and Councilman Ruben Wills (D-South Jamaica) expressed outrage at the city’s switching of the shelter, which happened in the middle of February break. Some of the children at the shelter attended PS 124 and were forced to relocate in the middle of the school year.
The move also created concern about who was living in the shelter and whether some of the men living there posed a threat to the community. The school began implementing new security procedures, including locking schoolyard fences, over those concerns.
Alex Zablocki, director of community relations at DHS, said the shelter is necessary.
“We are required to give shelter to anyone who asks for it,” he told CB 10 at its April 4 meeting. “By law, we can only have 200 beds per shelter, so we are constantly in need of new shelters.”
He said there are 174 beds at the shelter and the number of men living there is constantly changing. Between Jan. 1 and April 1, 66 residents have moved out. Fifty-eight of those living there are working.
Zablocki said the shelter has a strict curfew of 10 p.m. and residents who do not have jobs spend much of their time going to workshops for skills, such as resume writing and other kinds of job training, or are out looking for work.
“We take client responsibility seriously,” Zablocki said. “Anyone who breaks the rules can lose their right to shelter.”