Wanda Jackson, director of social services at the SCO Family of Services home in South Ozone Park, came to the Oct. 4 Community Board 10 meeting to introduce herself and her house to the neighborhood.
It’s not a community she and her organization are unfamiliar with. The SCO home is for djudicated youth — those convicted of crimes and who either served time in detention centers or were sentenced to group homes by New York Family Court — located in a house at 135-25 128 St. in South Ozone Park, has been open since Labor Day weekend. It was only Oct. 4 when someone from the home appeared before the board.
“In the future, we strongly urge you to do the outreach,” said Betty Braton, chairwoman of CB 10.
Though they would have liked to do it much earlier, members of the board had their questions and concerns about the house answered by Jackson, including:
“Who are these kids?”
“Are they being watched?”
Jackson said the home opened under the Close to Home program, signed into law by Gov. Cuomo in the spring. The law allows for kids placed in detention by New York Family Court to be housed closer to home. Previously, many had been sent upstate.
“The intent is for families to be actively involved in treatment,” Jackson said.
She said most of the kids come from the New York City area and are placed by the Administration for Children’s Services. ACS was ultimately the agency that chose the house and when it would be opened, Jackson added.
She said the kids, who are all teenagers, are heavily supervised, and the home is staffed 24 hours a day. The building is also alarmed. “There are always two sets of eyes on the kids,” Jackson said.
The youths living in the house are “low offending,” meaning the crimes they have been convicted of are not violent. “They had a lack of structure,” Jackson said.
Responding to complaints of lack of outreach, Jackson said she and other staff knocked on doors on the nearby blocks and Braton placed the blame for lack of outreach on ACS, noting that the city never discussed sites for the homes and only held a public meeting on them earlier this year — in Far Rockaway.
“The city engaged in a draft plan on how they were going to implement the Close to Home program” she said. “There was nothing in the plan discussing site selection.”
SCO, formerly St. Christopher Ottilic, also opened homes in Hollis, Rockaway and Queens Village.
Sharman Stein, a spokesperson for SCO, said the group did reach out to the community board during the summer and met with Braton in August before the home on 128th Street opened. She added that staff from the home have done outreached to neighbors nearby since and appeared at a number of local civic meetings through September and October.
A similar situation unfolded in a group home near Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Ozone Park, where a former convent at the parish was converted into a group home for adjudicated youth as part of the Close to Home program. CB 10 member David Quintana, who lives close to the site of that home, said little notice was given until representatives from the Diocese of Brooklyn and the organization running the group home came to a Community Board 9 meeting on Sept. 11.
“They also didn’t tell anyone about that either,” Quintana said.