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Queens Chronicle

Sex offender removes himself from Westway shelter

Queens politicians call on NYC DHS for transparency

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Posted: Thursday, February 5, 2015 2:21 pm

Soon after reports — and statements of outrage from area politicians — that a registered sex offender was recently moved into the Westway Hotel homeless shelter in East Elmhurst, the man was then transferred out of the facility Thursday.

State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) confirmed to the Queens Chronicle that he was told the man, James Bryant, 49, voluntarily removed himself from the shelter. Peralta said that as soon as reports surfaced that Bryant, who online Criminal Justice records show is a Level 2 registered sex offender who sexually assaulted a 7-year-old girl in 2003, was at the Westway, he and fellow area officials Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria), Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Bronx, Queens), and city Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria) were infuriated. 

They immediately made calls to the Department of Homeless Services and city officials demanding to know why there was no broadcast information of Bryant's placement and why the convict, who served a 10-year term in state prison, was allowed to move into a shelter used primarily by women and children.

Within a day of the officials' first phone calls, Bryant had vacated the shelter, which is managed by the Manhattan-based organization Women in Need, which is particularly known for providing safe housing and services for homeless mothers.

"Thankfully they actually came to their senses," Peralta said. "The DHS has to understand that this community deserves to have the right to know ... Without the community's input, it's just going to become a nightmare." 

On Jan. 15, there was a public hearing at 125 Worth St. in Manhattan, at which residents were given a chance to voice concerns over the DHS's plan to make the 121-family facility into a permanent shelter. It was standing room only, according to Peralta. The official said that was the only time area residents were given a chance to be directly involved in the process, and that he and Simotas are looking into introducing legislation that ensures the community is more informed and involved.

"The Department of Homeless Services assured us that they will be more sensitive when they relocate individuals in the future and that they will be considerate to the needs of our residential neighborhoods," Constantinides said in a emailed statement. "We will keep working to ensure that our neighborhood's concerns are addressed in this process."

Simotas said in a statement that the DHS had used procedures to avoid oversight when it turned the Westway into a shelter.

"This continued disregard of the public and the people DHS is supposed to serve is why I m suing the City and DHS," she said. "DHS must review their policies to ensure that families in shelters are safe from predators instead of merely moving sex offenders around the City."

Attempts to reach a DHS spokesman Thursday morning were not immediately successful. 

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