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Queens Chronicle

Community rallies against shelter plan

Pols and residents rip proposal to house 200 men on Cooper Avenue

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Posted: Thursday, November 7, 2019 10:30 am | Updated: 1:23 pm, Thu Nov 7, 2019.

The Glendale-Middle Village Coalition and other concerned members of the community gathered Saturday morning at 78-16 Cooper Ave., the site of the proposed homeless shelter for 200 men, to demonstrate their opposition and protest its opening.

“We’re here today because we once again have to defend our community, our families and our way of life against corrupt politicians like Bill de Blasio and his profit-seeking real estate holders,” said coalition member and rally leader Mike Papa. “It’s getting ridiculous. It seems like every year we have to defend against these guys just to keep our children safe.”

The project has been on-again, off-again for years, but was recently announced by the Department of Homeless Services to be completed in early 2020. Westhab, the operator of the shelter, will convert the factory warehouse to house 200 homeless men and provide them with the means to find employment and to rejoin the community, but the neighborhood remains unconvinced that the plans are so pure.

“This is not going to help the homeless guy sleeping on the street. This is not going to help the people you see on the train. It’s not going to help the mentally ill people who really do need help, and if that was a facility like that, I might be inclined to consider it, but it’s not,” said Papa, who refers to the planned residents as “dangerous, unpredictable, drug-abusing ex-convicts,” “sexual offenders” and “mentally ill men.”

Papa is convinced the residents will comprise recently released inmates of Rikers Island. The introduction of the shelter comes as part of de Blasio’s plan to “turn the tide” on homelessness, but Papa believes its purpose is to turn a profit rather than aid community members. Corruption is an issue Papa said, and he intends to demand an investigation into the procedures and processes that have been taken into opening the shelter.

Community members shared concern over the shelter’s proximity to neighborhood schools such as PS/IS 119, PS 87 and PS 9, the girls’ gym Triumph Gymnastics and The Shops at Atlas Park. According to Papa, a developer wants to pull out of plans to create a Cooper Ave. daycare because he fears placing the children near sexual offenders.

Eva Novelli lives a few blocks away from the site and has been attending protests and rallies for over two years to fight for the safety of her 6-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son. She wants the peace of mind of knowing that her children are growing up in a neighborhood they can walk freely in, but she believes the shelter poses a threat and “is too close to day-to-day life. It’s disturbing.”

“It’s scary,” Zorica Stojanov of Glendale said. “This neighborhood is nice and friendly now ... it makes me nervous to have more homeless people. We need more schools [instead].”

Councilman Bob Holden (D-Middle Village) voiced his desire to see the site turned into a District 75 school for special needs students, a plan he claims de Blasio promised him. Holden believes the current school for disabled children, PS 9, is in unsuitable condition and should be shut down. He’s advocated for the warehouse at 78-16 Cooper Ave. to be renovated into a new state-of-the-art school for PS 9 students instead of a homeless shelter

“We are mostly one and two family homes. We don’t need a warehouse shelter here, and that’s what this is,” Holden said, suggesting that smaller shelters serving up to 25 people would be better suited for the family neighborhood. “The mayor has forgotten the middle class, and he certainly has forgotten Glendale and Middle Village.”

Other speakers joined the stage to voice concerns, such as Holden’s Education Director Charlie Vavruska, Curtis Seymour of Middle Village, state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach), Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven) and President of the Glendale Civic Association Kathy Masi.

“All of these mounting problems and all the city wants to do with them is shove them down your throats with no remedy, no relief, no solutions, except to destroy neighborhoods,” Seymour said. “You know, deep in your heart and soul, this mayor has it in for Glendale, Middle Village and Maspeth ... This is a war for the soul of our city. Enough is enough.”

Holden concluded the protest by promising there will be further rallies before urging the crowd to march down Cooper Avenue toward the Atlas Park mall chanting, “Shut it down.”

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