Two and a half years of discussion and a failed lawsuit later, a 75-bed transitional housing facility for women age 55 and over is set to open in Douglaston this August, officials said at a town hall on the matter last Thursday evening.

While some of the roughly 100 people in attendance at Zion Episcopal Church had accepted that as fact and found the event informative, asking how they could help and about day-to-day operations, others remained stuck on the mere existence of a shelter at the former Pride of Judea Community Services on Northern Boulevard.

And in the middle of that tension, at times functioning as a peacemaker, was Councilmember Vickie Paladino (R-Whitestone), whose office sponsored the event.

As he and his colleagues from the Department of Homeless Services and Samaritan Daytop Village — the facility’s operator — offered introductions, Jerry Heaney, vice president for transitional housing at Samaritan Village, cut to the chase. According to him, the four-floor, 7,500-square-foot shelter will consist of 10 dorms, a working kitchen and a new, small side yard. There will be three guards and 60 security cameras, and staff will be on-site 24/7. As for bathrooms, there is one shower, sink and toilet for every 10 people.

Some officials seemed determined to address the stigma surrounding shelters with regard to crime and drugs right off the bat; Samaritan Village’s assistant vice president for transitional housing, Alyssa Sanchez, emphasized that the women occupying the shelter will likely have suffered a lot of trauma.

“This facility is going to be for 75 women who are older adults who just need help,” said Cindy Teta, DHS’s assistant commissioner for single adult shelter operations.

Initially questions seemed sympathetic to that — one person asked how long clients will stay at the facility; Heaney said most will be there for about a year.

But the tone changed quickly when one area resident asked both about crime statistics broadly and what residents’ sources of income will be. Teta said that while some women may have jobs, others may be on public assistance or already be retired. Hailey Nolasco, the Department of Social Services’ assistant deputy commissioner, intergovernmental and legislative affairs, said criminal background checks are not run on those entering the facility.

Another person chimed in, asking, “How do you ensure that the neighborhood will not be overcome with people who are trying to sell drugs, perhaps doing trafficking and exploiting these women?” Later she added, “How in the world can you guarantee that they are not drug addicts?”

Officials explained that single women enter the shelter system at the Franklin Women’s Shelter in the Bronx, and are evaluated for 21 days before being placed in a site that has been deemed suitable for their needs, such as the Douglaston facility. They emphasized that drugs are not allowed, and that upon entering the facility, clients are assessed once again and sign a good neighbor policy and code of conduct.

As for the women’s presence in the community, Teta explained that clients will not be required to leave the facility, and that they will spend their days meeting with case workers, doing recreational activities and the like. If they do leave the property for work or visiting potential housing when they are ready for it, they need to return by 11 p.m.

Douglaston resident Mark Barrett, a former law enforcement officer and firefighter in the audience, answered the question about crime. “Every day, we were at a shelter, whether I was in law enforcement or [the] FDNY,” he said. “And it was because of drug sales, drug use, assaults, sexual assaults and homicides — that’s the honest truth.”

Others proceeded to ask how much the city would spend on every resident annually, but the Rev. Lindsay Lunnum, who helped facilitate the meeting, said that was a budget question that was outside the scope of the event.

Reiterating someone else’s question, Dennis Saffran asked about consequences for being late for curfew or returning “stoned or drunk.” To that, Anthony Maiello, chief of security for Samaritan Village, said that if residents appear to be a “hindrance to themselves” or others, they will not be allowed to enter the facility.

“We’re going to try to see how we can best assist them,” Teta added. “If we cannot assist them in this space and in this capacity ... we would look into transferring them to another facility that would better meet their needs.”

Some asked how best they might help women in the shelter, be that through organizing events or donating toiletries, clothes and shoes.

A former homeless services employee and area resident brought his own experience into the discussion. “One of the things that I think we get wrong is we frame homelessness as a quality-of -ife issue, and it isn’t — it is a humanitarian issue, it is an issue of civic responsibility,” he said. “This is an opportunity for us as a neighborhood to do something about the crisis level of homelessness that’s happening in New York City. As far as homelessness is concerned, it’s the equivalent of not having enough fire stations for the fire.”

When he began to address some of the questions about crime, noting that studies show “in terms of crime, litter and noise, homeless shelters, caused less than you might think,” Barrett and others began arguing with him about that, shouting, “Why are we bringing homeless people into this community?”

That’s when Paladino stepped in. “Everybody simmer down. This is a hot-button issue,” she said. “Attacking each other here is not permissible.”

Though the tension in the room eased for some time, many of the same people who asked about crime continued to ask questions about whether the beds were too close together in the shelter and worried about fights breaking out between women living there. Douglaston resident Dawn Anatra, who started a petition against the shelter in 2020, even said homeless people are starting to “making encampments” in the area’s wetlands; other area residents later told the Chronicle that is false.

One resident, who said she has been involved with a small shelter in South Jamaica for more than 20 years, objected to that sentiment as well. “The women who live in that shelter are not a threat to the community — they are vulnerable, they need protection and they need the humanity of a place to sleep at night where they can feel safe,” she said. “The fact that Northeast Queens is an affluent area — we all know that — does not relieve us of the obligation to share in what is a problem affecting the citizens of the City of New York.”

That elicited applause.

This will be the first shelter in Community District 11.

Later, one audience member turned the questions to Paladino, asking why she supports the shelter, despite previously opposing it. To that, she said. “I’ll tell you what changed — reality changed.” She added the shelter plan was already official before she took office, and insisted she would hold the DHS and Samaritan Village accountable once the shelter opens.

Paladino also put the shelter and people’s concerns with it in the context of the migrant crisis, which has intensified in recent days with the end of Title 42, which previously allowed authorities to turn asylum seekers away at the border. That has caused the city and Mayor Adams to use school gyms and weigh using schools and libraries to house asylum seekers.

“This city is in a major crisis ... there are 74,000 migrants crossing the border that are living in this city right now — and we are here tonight to talk about a homeless shelter with elderly women living in it,” the councilmember said.

She went on to refer to the private meeting Adams held with the Council on last Thursday, during which he took issue with members’ “disrespect” for his staff navigating the crisis, the New York Daily News reported last Thursday afternoon.

“District 19 is not going to be immune to the migration that’s coming over the border,” Paladino said. “After hearing what I heard today, this is gonna look like peanuts. So just buckle up buttercups, because this is just the beginning.”