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Queens Chronicle

Sex offenders to be out of Skyway

Ruben Wills, parent leaders celebrate the move after four years of fighting

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Posted: Thursday, July 9, 2015 10:30 am

Councilman Ruben Wills (D-South Jamaica) and parent leaders have been waiting for four years to have sexual offenders moved out of the Skyway Men’s Shelter in South Ozone Park.

On Tuesday, the councilman announced that their long-fought battle was successful.

“As of yesterday, the Department of Homeless Services has announced that this is truly indeed not a compliant shelter and they will be removing the sexual offenders in an expedited basis out of this shelter,” Wills said at a press conference at PS 124.

The reason the shelter is not compliant, Wills said, is because it lies about 920 feet away from PS 124, which violates state guidelines that mandate sexual offenders not live within 1,000 feet of a school.

Wills called the struggle to remove the Level 2 and 3 offenders out of the shelter, formerly the Skyway Motel, “a long, hard-fought battle” that was necessary.

“And to the other communities across New York like ours that feel like there is something wrong ... you should definitely put the work into it,” he added. “Gather your community, and make sure that the state and the city listen to exactly what you’ve been saying. If you feel it in your gut, then go with it.”

A DHS spokeswoman confirmed the presence of sex offenders at the old motel and that they will be moved.

“We are working to transfer those residents to sites that are compliant,” the spokeswoman said in an email on Tuesday.

The spokeswoman added, “Originally, this site met the requirement to be 1,000 feet from a school, but yesterday DHS was notified the facility no longer meets this geographic requirement.”

The Skyway, located at 132-10 South Conduit Ave., was converted from a family shelter to a men’s shelter in 2011.

The community feared the arrival of sex offenders to the shelter, citing nearby parks and PS 124 at 129-15 150 Ave.

“We had no safeguard in saying there wouldn’t be sexual offenders down the block from a school,” Wills said on Tuesday.

Officials through the years have reported that sex offenders were indeed living in there, at one point 52 of them.

Since then, civic and school officials have rallied for their removal.

Eileen Lamanna, president of PS 124’s Parent Teacher Association, has been working on the issue “from the beginning.”

“It was horrible,” Lamanna said of the 2011 discovery of sex offenders in the Skyway building. “They didn’t notify anybody.”

Lamanna on Tuesday expressed relief at their removal.

“It takes long, hard work but it can be done if you stick with it,” she said.

A man who is staying at the hotel also said he was happy the sex offenders would be removed from there.

“It’s a bad look for the community,” Jermain Baker said in an interview about sex offenders being near the school.

Baker told the Queens Chronicle he is staying at the Skyway because he just got out of prison and that he has been mistaken for a sex offender by people in the community.

“Nobody speaks to you because they think everybody is a sex offender. I’m not a sex offender,” he said. “They chase us out of the park and things like that.”

Wills, during his press conference, said he believes the issue of where social service shelters are placed in the city should be revisited.

“I think there’s a systemic racism problem in the city,” the councilman said, adding that “minority communities” are inundated with facilities such as Skyway and a planned juvenile detention center in South Ozone Park he is also fighting against.

Jeysha Ruiz, a South Ozone Park resident who is on the front line of battling the detention center, said she’s seen a “detrimental decline in our community” since the social service facilities have been placed there.

“Our community needed this, very much so,” she said of the offenders being removed. “I’m grateful, I’m happy and ecstatic that we have had some kind of movement toward the right direction for our community.”

In a statement, the South Ozone Park Civic Association West, a plaintiff in a lawsuit to block the detention center, said the removal of sex offenders from Skyway “will enable the parents in the community to feel at ease when their kids go to the playgrounds and parks in the surrounding area.”

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