The city has removed 39 Level 2 and 3 sex offenders from the Skyway homeless shelter in South Ozone Park, Councilman Ruben Wills (D-South Jamaica) announced at Community Board 10 last Thursday.
“We have been going back and forth with the Department of Homeless Services for weeks about the issue and they have removed every sex offender from the shelter as of today” the Councilman announced to applause.
The facility, a former motel at 132-30 South Conduit Ave. on the outskirts of JFK Airport, houses over 100 people and has been controversial since it changed from a family shelter to a men’s shelter in February 2011.
That change happened without anyone in the community knowing. Two blocks from the shelter is PS 124 and across the Belt Parkway is a park frequented by neighborhood children.
The shelter change in 2011 was also controversial because several children who lived there attended PS 124 and were forced to relocate halfway through the school year.
The Department of Homeless Services assured the community several times that security was tight at the shelter, which has 174 beds, but made no assurance that sex offenders wouldn’t be placed there. However, parents and area residents, however, still expressed concern about its effect on the neighborhood.
Last July, the community’s worst fears were realized when the Queens Chronicle reported that several dozen registered sex offenders were living there.
State law doesn’t permit sex offenders to live within 1,000 feet of a school or other facility caring for children. Wills said the shelter is 1,002 feet away from PS 124.
The news that there were sex offenders living at Skyway led PS 124’s PTA to host a town hall meeting with DHS and BASICS, the operator of the shelter, to express their concerns. DHS noted that they had no legal authority to track any of the shelter’s residents when they were outside, even the sex offenders, because they had already served their time.
CB 10 Chairwoman Betty Braton credited the 106th Precinct, including past commanding officer Deputy Inspector Tom Pascale, who was in charge when the shelter switched to a men’s facility in 2011, and the current commanding officer, Deputy Inspector Jeffrey Schiff, who took over last fall, for keeping tabs on the sex offenders living in the shelter since it was discovered some were there last summer.
“It has been the work of the men and women of this precinct under the leadership that they have that has prevented any incidents emanating from those offenders,” she said. “The precinct and community affairs and the men and women who serve us have been on that since day one.”
Wills added that Assemblywoman Michele Titus (D-Far Rockaway) and state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) are proposing a bill that would ban any sex offender from living within 1,500 feet of a school or playground, which would ban the city from placing any at Skyway.
“Hopefully we can get that passed soon,” he said.