At an open house workshop last Thursday at Martin Van Buren High School, civic leaders and residents were divided about the idea of a homeless shelter at a proposed redevelopment site at Creedmoor Psychiatric Hospital’s south campus in Queens Village.
During the Feb. 16 forum, Bob Friedrich, president of the Glen Oaks Village Co-op, said that he heard Borough President Donovan Richards, who supports a community-led master plan to transform 55 acres of unutilized space at the mental health facility, into a space for the unhoused.
“This organization is working with the borough president to put this together,” Friedrich said at the meeting. Speaking on behalf of 14 civic associations he said, “We don’t want prisons, we don’t want juvenile centers, we don’t want homeless shelters and we don’t want big box retail stores.”
Richards’ office said that he did not state that he wanted a homeless shelter there, nor has he endorsed any specific proposal for the site. When it comes to the housing crisis, he has said there needs to be a fast tracking of the construction of more affordable and supportive homes, not homeless shelters.
Friedrich said that he wants a development that is in character for the surrounding neighborhood.
“We already have serious problems with Creedmoor and the aggressive panhandling,” the co-op president added.
Friedrich also said that the civic associations were not carrying a “not in my backyard” mentality for the development but they have already met several times before the workshop and had already agreed on their priorities: housing consistent with the community (co-ops and single- or two-family houses); an intergenerational recreation center with a pool; and senior and veteran housing with services.
Not every resident at the forum shared Friedrich’s sentiments about a homeless shelter at the site.
Beverly Sylva, a Queens Village resident, civic association member and a member of the SNAP Innovative Senior Center, said residents would be more secure if the unhoused were in a shelter instead of on the streets.
“We have to be concerned about the homeless issue also,” Sylva said. “We want safety for families, as well as youth and seniors.”
Sylva also said that people wanted better schools for youth so they don’t have to travel to Manhattan or another borough to receive a top-tier education.
Bobby Sher, board president of Bell Park Manor Terrace, disagreed with Sylva’s reasoning and said that there have been people from Creedmoor who have wandered off from the hospital and defecated, urinated and given people black eyes.
“I just want what is best for the neighborhood,” Sher said. “Any head of any precinct says that anytime we have halfway houses or homeless shelters and things like that ... crimes go up and burglaries go up.”
Kirby Lindell, vice president of Bell Park Manor Terrace, said that panhandlers who leave the Creedmoor campus station wander outside to nearby schools, delis and other food establishments.
“If they bring in a homeless shelter it will only get worse,” Lindell said.
Bonny DiFolco emphasized the need for greenspace with a lunch area and programming similar to Bryant Park.
“We need a space where the community can get together, there could be nice restrooms and there could be bicycle trails so that we don’t have to ride our bicycles in the streets,” said DiFolco, who is from Bellerose. “We talked about connecting Alley Pond Park to Creedmoor.”
Marlene Zaslavsky, 68, a retired post office worker from Oakland Gardens, is also a bike enthusiast and agrees with DiFolco.
“I ride a bike path that comes to a dead stop at Winchester Boulevard and there is no real safe way to go any further,” Zaslavsky. “It would be really nice if they could devise a connection into this new development. So many people use the bike path. It could be safe and it would be a great way to get more exercise.”
Zaslavsky would also like senior housing at the 50 acre site.
Margaret Borger, an Oakland Gardens resident and middle school librarian, wants a bike trail for students from the Glen Oaks school to enjoy, solar panels on any buildings that are retrofitted, and a homeless shelter.
“I don’t want homeless people out on the street or on a park bench,” said Borger, a member of Friends of Alley Pond Park. “I don’t want a place where people are dumped and are afraid. I want a place for them with services.”
Borger’s friend, who wished to remain anonymous and is also from Oakland Gardens, said that a shelter should have single-room occupancy.
Borger also emphasized the need for more trees and a rain garden to protect the infrastructure from flooding.
Dozens of members from Carpenters RISE, a union, were also at the forum, including Mike White, a business representative.
“We heard there was a community event today, so I brought a couple of my friends today who are from the area,” said White.
The union members wanted to know where the funding for the jobs will come from, if it was going to be public money, will the development use union workers, will people get a prevailing wage and will there be a labor agreement.
“These guys live here and they want to work here,” White added. “They want to get paid to live in their neighborhood. A short commute saves you a lot of money.”
People from Elmhurst, Queens Village and St. Albans were among the union members.
While many residents were suspicious as to why the carpenters were there and thought they wanted a huge development at the site, many of the union workers said that they too wanted to see a park, recreational center and good schools. They were also against high-rise buildings, similar to the ones recently built in Jamaica.
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