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Queens Chronicle

Esposito claims Ozone Park shelter plan may be dropped

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Posted: Monday, October 8, 2018 4:54 pm

Ozone Park activist Sam Esposito made a Facebook post on Sunday evening in which he claimed a tentative victory in the Ozone Park Block Association’s crusade against the homeless shelter being constructed at the former Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church on 101st Avenue and 86th street. The shelter is being constructed to house 113 men with mental illness.

Esposito claimed that major work had stopped and that a change in plans by the city will be made public soon.

“In closing, nothing official has been announced yet, but all indications point to the fact that we are NOT getting the 113 men, and the whole idea of a shelter, in that location, right now, is up in the air,” the post says in part. “I sent out 2 letters, again, to the owners’ wives this week and I hope they will find it in their hearts to convince their husbands, to do something else with this site.”

Isaac McGinn of the Department of Homeless Services, however, said the city is going ahead with its plans to turn the church into a homeless shelter. 

“Every community has a role to play in addressing this citywide challenge and we’re committed to open engagement with all communities across the five boroughs as we transform a shelter system decades in the making," McGinn said in an emailed statement. "We’re moving forward with opening this facility as soon as possible to give homeless New Yorkers the opportunity to be sheltered closer to the communities they called home before winter approaches.”

Asked to clarify that Esposito’s claim was not correct, McGinn wrote, “As statement indicates, proceeding as planned.”

Esposito thought differently on Facebook, crediting a lawsuit he and other residents filed against the city to block the shelter. 

“The major work on the shelter stopped on September 17th,” his Sunday night post began. “The lawsuit started this conversation and the city wants to avoid a lengthy, five year custody battle.” 

He went on to voice support for a woman mugged on Atlantic Avenue last Monday — allegedly by a homeless man — writing that, “you helped change the situation.” This was after he had thanked numerous politicians for their support including state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) and the democratic candidate for state attorney general, Letitia James, whose efforts he called compassionate and heroic.

Esposito claims he has as many as six sources familiar with the plan providing him information about the change in the city’s thinking. 

“I’ve gotten this from reputable sources,” he said, but he said he could not publicly identify these sources as, “people could get hurt.” Esposito further claimed that he has heard rumors that a new site for the facility that would house 113 men has already been selected. He could not provide any information beyond saying the relocation would be to a neighborhood that is “not residential.” 

When contacted to comment on Esposito’s Facebook post, Addabbo was supportive without providing an official confirmation that construction had stopped. “We have to continue until we get the final word,” the senator said. “When you put all the pieces of the puzzle together, hopefully the city changes the plan to help the homeless population,” he said. 

According to the DHS, the puzzle of housing the homeless has not changed.

“This facility, which will be the first traditional shelter in this community district, will serve single adult men experiencing mental health challenges offered to those individuals who have roots in this community and Queens more broadly," the department said. "Our ‘Turning the Tide’ plan to address the citywide challenge of homelessness commits to opening new high quality sites like this, so that we can phase out stop-gap measures, like the use of commercial hotel locations, which dates back to the 1960s, once and for all.

"As a result, the one commercial hotel location currently in use in this district will be phased out as part of our borough-based plan, which prioritizes people and communities while offering our homeless neighbors the opportunity to be sheltered in their home boroughs closer to their support networks and communities they last called home.”

A court date regarding the neighborhood’s lawsuit against the city is set for Oct. 22. 

UPDATE

This story has been updated to include a statement from a Department of Homeless Services spokesperson and to attribute other information to the department itself.

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