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Queens Chronicle

Protest held against Ozone Park shelter plan

Officials call for facility to house families instead of mentally ill men

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Posted: Thursday, September 13, 2018 5:13 pm

A rally was held Wednesday across the block from the proposed homeless shelter at 85-15 101 Ave. in Ozone Park that is planned to hold 113 mentally ill men near several schools.

Dozens of residents listened and cheered as politicians criticized the city plan for the shelter.

“To think about 113 mentally ill men mixed with these children and these parents with strollers is a reality we don’t want to face,” said state Sen. Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach). “It’s a wrong reality.”

Lantern Community Services will be operating the shelter. Addabbo and Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven) recently met with Lantern to discuss some of their concerns. They were given an itinerary which showed them that there would be morning meditation at 8 a.m. and a meeting at 4 p.m. Naturally the question was raised as to what the sheltered men would do in the interim.

Addabbo recalled Lantern’s response: “This is not a jail. We can’t keep them here. They can go out.”

Addabbo told the crowd that he has spoken about the issue with Mayor de Blasio and that de Blasio told him housing the men elsewhere is under consideration.

“We need to still tell him the credible arguments on why this is a wrong idea,” Addabbo said.

The shelter didn’t go over well in the community to begin with but it didn’t have the same impact over the summer when school was out. Now that school is in session the cries of protest have grown even louder, according to Addabbo. 

Jeanne Shannon, principal of nearby St. Elizabeth Catholic Academy, explained, it’s not a not in my backyard issue. It’s a “not in my schoolyard issue.”

She also wonders about the children playing in her schoolyard for nearly seven hours during the day. And what happens to the homeless men at night.

“Where are these men sleeping? In the yards and on the porches of their local neighbors? On our school steps, on our church steps, on our temple steps, in our communities near our children,” Shannon said.

Democratic district leader Lew Simon of Rockaway said neigbors have been informing him that people have been sleeping in the park at PS 64 because those people are aware of the incoming shelter and want the first shot at getting in.

PS 64, PS 316, MS 210, Divine Mercy Catholic Academy and St. Elizabeth Catholic Academy are all within walking distance of the shelter.

“It is quite obvious that this is not the right match,” Simon said. 

Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato (D-Howard Beach) also spoke out against the location of the shelter. “They’re trying to figure where they can put poor souls into wherever they can and this community is not a good match,” Pheffer Amato said.

The issue drew greater attention when Sam Esposito went on a hunger strike and slept in a tent for two weeks outside the construction site as a protest before being taken to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center. 

“To do what he did for those two weeks without food, sitting out all night, not an easy thing to do,” Miller said. “He did it. He did it for us.”

Esposito said that he understands the need for a shelter but feels the mentally ill men are not appropriate for this location. A lawsuit brought forward by residents of Ozone Park against the city is pending. 

“We’re hoping that the city will take Joe’s proposal and work with us and give us women and children, seniors, just not 113 mentally ill men,” Esposito said, referring to Addabbo. “That’s really all we’re asking.”

The senator would like to see resources used to help different groups that would be welcomed by the community. 

“We can help women and children, we can help seniors who need help that are homeless,” Addabbo said. “We can help veterans. There are homeless veterans out there. We can help them.”

Esposito has been hoping to hear from the mayor. And if de Blasio doesn’t respond, there’s always the next mayor. 

“We really need to stick together as a community and fight this together,” Esposito said. “We will win. We may not win on our terms today but we’re going to win this battle whether it’s now or in three years from now when the new administration comes, we’re going to win this.”

Ozone Park resident John Pickle remembered his reaction when he first heard about the planned location. “Kind of shocked that they would put so many mentally ill people right in the middle of a community,” Pickle said.

Pickle feels that it would be nice had the city had a shelter for families instead. “There are schools all over the place,” he said. “Not the place to have this.”

Now the community braces itself for a battle over the long haul.

“I have lived in Ozone Park all my life,” Addabbo said. “I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to stand here and we’re going to fight this proposal.”

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