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Queens Chronicle

Talk of a homeless shelter at PS 9

Maspeth school for special-needs students could be used for housing

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Posted: Thursday, October 18, 2018 10:30 am

In the latest rumor of a homeless shelter in Maspeth, the talk is that a location may be at PS 9 on 57th Street.

Councilman Bob Holden (D-Middle Village) says it’s too early in the process to have a complete talk about the idea, floated by the Mayor’s Office.

“That was so premature,” Holden said. “The Mayor’s Office jumped the gun on that.”

According to Holden, the Mayor’s Office told other elected officials about it without notifying him. “I was angry with the Mayor’s Office for doing that,” he said.

Holden added, “It’s wrong to do that because you’re alarming people, most of them unnecessarily.”

In his first year on the job, he’s finding out how blunders can happen.

“I’m new to government, I see how sometimes there’s miscommunication and screw-ups and this is one of them,” Holden said.

Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan (D-Long Island City) told the Chronicle she wasn’t pleased about hearing the idea.

“I just know I’m very unhappy,” Nolan said. “I feel like some of this was done behind my back. I’m furious about that.”

The councilman gave the city several options of locations that could potentially be used as a shelter. “I don’t know why they focused on [PS] 9,” Holden said.

The school, which serves students with special needs, opened in 1905. It was not clear where they would go if the building became a shelter.

“Somehow, someway, someone wants to use that building as a homeless shelter,” Nolan said.

Holden has been working on helping the students at the school and has made eight visits during the year, as he’s bothered by the conditions there: the lack of bathrooms, having students with autism in cavernous rooms that hurt their ears and the lack of handicap accessibility.

“PS 9 right now in Maspeth as a school does not work,” Holden said.

The city has been planning for a shelter at 78-16 Cooper Ave. but Holden firmly says this is not a “swap” of any kind.

He has been trying to find the ideal location for a shelter and has worked on fixing PS 9 as two separate issues.

While it’s usually popular for politicians to come out against shelters, the fact that the school is in an industrial area could make things different.

“I did say this publicly, that I’d rather have it in an industrial area than a residential area,” Holden said. “And PS 9 was mentioned, but again, very early.”

The councilman added, “It’s hard for any politician to say, ‘Yeah, I want a homeless shelter.’ You have to talk about, obviously, the population.”

He said when he walked in the surrouding area there were 18-wheelers outside the building and that he feels the school is somewhat hidden away in the community.

Nolan feels this is not the right solution for anybody involved, saying it would be “extremely detrimental to the homeless.”

The industrial section of Maspeth would seem to be a better fit than Cooper Avenue, at least according to state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach).

He did not, however, explicitly say whether he would support a shelter at PS 9.

“I think it’s still in the negotiation period but a homeless shelter of that size in Glendale was really unforgivable given the lack of transportation, the close proximity to schools and residential areas when you start talking about the mentally ill population,” he said.

Holden said he had one discussion with Steven Banks, commissioner of the Department of Social Services, and then nothing else was discussed. The councilman said he’d work with Banks but any selection has to be for community residents.

“He knows I will not have an open shelter with people coming from all over or out of Rikers Island to come and stay there,” Holden said. “I don’t want that. I said, ‘We’ll take care of our own.’ And this is for the community.”

Holden stressed the importance of taking care of area residents.

“I think I’d be unreasonable if I didn’t say that,” he said. “We should take care of our own. And if anybody’s against taking care of their own, then they’re obviously being unreasonable. And I’m not unreasonable.”

Nolan is concerned about the possibility that the city could try to sneak the shelter through quickly, though Holden said this could take years.

“It’s not like this is going to be next week,” Holden said.

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