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Queens Chronicle

Ozone Park residents file suit against city

700 people protest the DHS’s plan for a shelter for mentally ill men

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Posted: Thursday, July 26, 2018 10:30 am

Last Thursday, at a meeting with more than 700 residents and a number of representatives from the Department of Homeless Services and Lantern Community Services, longtime Ozone Park resident Sam Esposito announced that he had hired a lawyer and would be filing a suit against the City of New York.

At issue is the homeless shelter the city plans for the neighborhood, which Lantern would oversee.

“This is not about hate ... this is not about prejudice ... it is about safety and concern for families and children,” he said.

Esposito organized the town hall meeting to address the proposed shelter, which would house 113 single adult men with mental illnesses at 85-15 101 Ave.

Before Esposito made his big announcement, elected officials and residents were able to speak to the DHS and Lantern, and ask any questions they had.

“Who looked at this location and thought it was a good place for mentally sick men?” asked one resident.

“What sort of security do you have? Because rent-a-cops are not going to cut it,” said another resident.

Many of the questions were addressed to Lantern, however Jackie Bray, DHS first deputy commissioner, answered all questions. She did not answer that one in detail, however, only confirming the building would indeed have security. The DHS oftentimes did not answer residents’ questions directly.

“We place these shelters in areas where they can acclimate and feel part of a community,” said Bray. “We are opening shelters for families and children, but this shelter is not appropriate for families with children.”

The purpose of the meeting, held at Nativity BVM Church, was for residents to get answers. Halfway through the meeting, realizing progress would likely not be made, Esposito took the mic to make his announcement.

“I have a lawyer here to represent the people of Ozone Park and he will be filing a lawsuit against the city tomorrow morning,” said Esposito, which was followed by a standing ovation and cheers of support and approval from the crowd.

The DHS was caught off-guard by the announcement and, according to a Facebook post made by Esposito, was very angry.

“Yes, DHS was pissed at me and did not see the lawsuit coming,” he said. “[A DHS representative] even whispered in my ear, why did we even bother to come if you knew you were going to file a lawsuit and stop us anyway.”

Chris Murray is the lawyer Esposito hired to represent the people of Ozone Park. Murray had previously handled a similar case for the people of Glendale, when the DHS made plans to put a homeless shelter there. The suit was dismissed but the city dropped the plan anyway.

According to Esposito he personally paid for the lawyer, which cost $10,000 up front. Over the course of the lawsuit it is expected to cost $100,000.

“Yes, we have hired an attorney ... who I have given $10,000, as a retainer, to file the initial lawsuit to stop the process while it winds its way in the court process for years and years to come,” said Esposito in the Facebook post. “It is going to cost upwards of $100,000 dollars, that is what Glendale paid out to keep their shelter from ever opening, AND IT WORKED.”

Esposito has asked the community to donate to a GoFundMe page to help cover the cost.

The page, gofundme.com/stop-ozone-park-homeless-shelter, has raised $11,915 as of late Wednesday afternoon.

A number of elected officials were also at the meeting, and many had the same issue with the DHS, lack of communication.

“We have said if you would have come to us and asked for help ... we would have been more than happy to help,” said Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park). “But what you’ve done instead is say that you want to warehouse and ram down our throats 113 mentally ill single male adults.”

Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Ozone Park) feels the same.

“My issue is that there’s no transparency,” said Miller. “The system is backwards ... you find a site and then you come to the community for input. It should be done differently; have the input first, then look for a site.”

Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato (D-Rockaway) was also in attendance, and though the site for the proposed shelter is technically not in her district, she still had something to say.

“I’m sitting here listening to the arrogance as if we don’t have a sensitivity towards homelessness,” said Pheffer Amato. “But 115 men with mental illness is not OK.”

A big issue the electeds had was not with the DHS directly, however, but with Mayor de Blasio.

“The bottom line is, we shouldn’t have to be here,” said state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Ozone Park). “The only reason we are here is because of the ineptness and the unacceptable way this mayor has treated our homeless.”

Ulrich was angry with the mayor as well.

“You guys up on that stage, I don’t believe in shooting the messenger, you’re just doing what the mayor is telling you,” said Ulrich. “So you take this back to Mayor Bill de Blasio. Those individuals, they deserve compassion, they deserve help, they deserve shelter, but they don’t deserve it ... in the heart of a residential community. We demand better. We want better. We are better.”

Esposito also announced that residents will be holding a protest in front of the house of the man who bought the building, a former Lutheran Church, the DHS plans to use sometime soon.

CORRECTION

This story originally misstated the result of a lawsuit filed by residents of Glendale over a homeless shelter plan. The suit was dismissed. We regret the error.

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