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Queens Chronicle

Delinquent housing blasted by residents

More than 100 people show up to civic meeting demanding answers

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Posted: Thursday, January 22, 2015 10:30 am

What was billed as a way for South Ozone Park residents to get answers from officials seeking to operate a residence for juvenile delinquents in the community quickly dissolved into more than 100 people shouting with frustration on Tuesday.

“We don’t want it here,” several residents yelled at a meeting of the South Ozone Park Civic Association West. “Put it somewhere else.”

The city Administration for Children’s Services leased a property at 133-23 127 St. to house 18 criminal offenders between the ages of 14 and 17. The program, entitled “Close to Home,” was passed as part of the 2012 state budget and seeks to hold juvenile criminals in residences closer to where they live, rather than in upstate prison facilities.

But several of the residents blasted officials from ACS and the organization that will oversee the teens or youths in the property —Episcopal Social Services — for no prior notice about the new residence, its proximity to two other similar shelters and a lack of answers.

“We don’t want another one in the community,” Anthony Gellineau, president of the South Ozone Park Civic Association West, said at the start of the meeting.

Another resident had a more blunt question. “Which imbecile had the audacity to authorize this?”

Longtime South Ozone Park resident Barbara Fiore said the community “is in a losing battle.”

“We feel like this was already a done deal,” she said.

Antonio Midyetta told ACS and ESS representatives that the juvenile offenders would not have been placed in the community if it was primarily Italian, the way it was years ago.

“You ain’t our brother or our sister,” Midyetta said to applause. “None of these people should be subjected to idiots.”

Several residents with children expressed fears that they would not be able to let their children play in their backyards, fearing the offenders housed at the facility would present a danger.

Edward Fabian, program director at Episcopal Social Services — which will oversee the day-to-day operations of the facility — said the residence would be a “very tightly controlled facility” with maximum security.

Jill Krauss, director of intergovernmental affairs at ACS, said the site was chosen because it was identified as a possibility by the ESS and that there are several other such facilities throughout the city.

Several residents shouted back “Would you want to live in this neighborhood?” Panel members did not respond to those questions.

But residents weren’t the only ones frustrated with the facility’s implementation in the community.

Councilman Ruben Wills (D-South Jamaica) also expressed opposition to the program’s placement in the community.

“I do not want this in this district,” he said.

But as the meeting wore on, Wills quickly found himself the target of residents’ anger who wanted to know why the councilman didn’t notify the community of the residence or do anything to halt its implementation.

“Why didn’t you do anything to stop this?” one resident shouted from the back of the room.

Wills took offense to the negative comments directed at him.

“I’m the only elected official here,” he said. “Do not test my commitment to this community.”

Wills told residents that their anger at him and those on the panel was misguided, and that action should be taken against City Hall, which decides where the Close to Home residences are placed.

“These folks do not make the decisions,” he said. “We can go to City Hall and rally, and let the mayor know that we don’t want this.”

The councilman also proposed suing to stop the plan, bringing those present at Tuesday’s meeting back next week to sign a lawsuit seeking an injunction against it, to which audience members applauded.

Wills said the group would return to St. Anthony of Padua Church’s basement hall, located at 135 Avenue and 128 Street on Tues. Jan. 27, to have residents sign on as plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

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