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Queens Chronicle

School, not shelter, sought for Cooper

Holden tells Juniper Park Civic he is gaining confidence in talks with city

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Posted: Thursday, September 27, 2018 10:30 am

No one is saying for certain, but it appears that the on-again, off-again proposal to build a men’s homeless shelter at a vacant factory building on Cooper Avenue in Glendale is on hold, according to Councilman Bob Holden (D-Middle Village), who addressed a packed house at the Juniper Park Civic Association’s meeting on Sept. 20.

Holden said he received confirmation in July that negotiations were underway for a plan to erect a shelter at 78-16 Cooper Ave. The facility could house up to 200 beds, he said, the maximum number permitted by the city’s Department of Homeless Services.

At the time, according to Holden, DHS Commissioner Steven Banks told him that no contracts had been signed.

As things stand, Holden said Banks is open to discussing other possible locations for the shelter, leaving the Cooper Avenue site available for other purposes.

“I’m confident,” he told the estimated 150 concerned area residents in attendance. But, he added, “It’s not a definite. We have people who are ready to protest.”

He promised to “work out the political end on my part.”

Holden, along with many other area residents, would prefer to see a school open at the site, or perhaps a new NYPD precinct building or a senior assisted living facility.

“We’re getting close” to making a school happen, Holden said. “They just have to go through the [Department of Education]; they have to talk to other people.”

A school, he said, “seems more likely now, it’s safe to say, than a homeless shelter.” The comment elicited widespread applause from the crowd.

Prior to the meeting, several long-time area residents expressed concern over the possibility of having a large men’s shelter in their midst.

“I think it’s a disgrace,” said Mickey Eberlein, who has lived in the area for 75 years. “We have too many children running around. You have places like Long Island City that have nothing but factories; put it there.”

Seventy-year resident Joanne Mugno agreed.

“Put them in an industrial area ... in Maspeth,” she said. “We have too many kids, too many seniors. No good at all.”

“We should be able to vote on whether we want a homeless shelter in our area,” Frances Hughes, a neighborhood resident for 38 years, said. Putting them in a middle class neighborhood does nothing to help the homeless, she added.

“We can’t embrace them,” she said.

The presence of such a shelter takes away from the value of homes and the ambience of the neighborhood.

“It’s inappropriate,” she said. “We want to keep it the way we like it. It shouldn’t be sprung on us. We’re taxpayers and we have rights.”

Holden said he met with DHS as early as January to discuss the matter. In February he suggested an alternative site near a cemetery on Cypress Avenue on the Ridgewood border of the district. He said he never heard back from the DHS at the time.

The councilman said he was told in January by DHS that it had to provide a shelter in the area as Community Board 5 “generates 287 homeless people in the shelter system,” a statistic he said he has to verify.

In his discussions with DHS, he said the proposed facility — with four stories — is too large for the neighborhood.

“It will never blend in. A shelter should blend into a neighborhood ... then it would be accepted,” he told DHS.

“Everyone would say, any time there was some crime in the neighborhood, we would right away think of that place because that place sticks out,” he said he told them. “They kind of understood that,” he said.

Holden would prefer a series of smaller shelters be opened at various locations around the area. But that might prove an uphill battle. It is “more economical for DHS to build larger facilities,” he said.

The Cooper Avenue location, per Holden, would be ideal for a new school or a new police precinct. The current precinct, built almost 100 years ago, is too congested, he said.

“Cop cars are parked all over the sidewalk,” he said. “We could get a modern precinct with parking for all the squad cars. That would be a nice location.”

As the area’s large population of baby boomers ages, a senior living facility would serve it well, Holden said. “We’d like to stay in our beloved neighborhood.”

Another possibility, he said, is opening both a school and a precinct at the site. He pointed out that two buildings behind 78-16 Cooper Ave. are available.

As for other possible locations for the shelter, he indicated that there are a lot of parishes in the area that have empty buildings. He would like to see a joint effort between DHS and churches, which, he said, would get paid to house families. He said Banks is “kind of open” to the collaboration. “We’re going to start negotiations,” he added, saying the diocese wants to talk.

“They’d get a lot of volunteers,” he said. “ I think a lot of people [in the community] would volunteer to help the homeless. We have big hearts in this community.”

But, he reminded the crowd, “We have a history in this neighborhood of not accepting things thrown at us without some input.”

The evening’s agenda also included a presentation by Sgt. Reiman of the 104th Precinct who indicated that crime is down across the board in the precinct year to date: robberies by 12 percent; felony assaults by 15 percent; burglaries by 17 percent; grand larcenies by 1 percent; and grand larceny autos by 25 percent.

The sergeant announced the arrival of Neighborhood Policing, scheduled to start in the upcoming weeks. A meet and greet event with the Neighborhood Coordination Officers will take place on Oct. 22 at Christ the King High School’s auditorium (68-02 Metropolitan Ave.) at 7 p.m. Attendees will have the opportunity to interact with the NCOs assigned to the neighborhoods and to learn about how Neighborhood Policing works toward building safer neighborhoods. Doors open at 6 p.m. and refreshments will be served. To attend, RSVP by Oct. 15 to Det. Thomas Bell at Thomas.Bell@nypd.org or at (718) 386-2431.

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