2014-08-15 / Top Stories

Resistance to Rockaway Shelter is Futile

By Jonathan Wolfe

Dr. Gerald David, Felicia Jones, Milan Taylor and Aldean Moore from Community Board 14. Dr. Gerald David, Felicia Jones, Milan Taylor and Aldean Moore from Community Board 14. Dozens of Rockaway residents attended the Community Board 14 meeting on Tuesday to express their indignation with the city’s plan that places a homeless shelter in Rockaway, which began operating on July 21 in the former Daytop Village rehab center on Beach 65th Street.

On Tuesday, representatives from the Department of Homeless Services and Housing Bridge, the non-profit organization running the location, were at the meeting to answer questions.

Before the meeting began, Felicia Johnson, the co-chair of Health and Social Services for Community Board 14, told a small group of people, “it’s a done deal, the city is not going to move them out.” Johnson explained that the purpose of the meeting was, “corralling the cows after they’ve got out of the barn,” referring to the need for the public to accept that the arrangement had been made and was fixed.

Harry Fried, Housing Bridge, and LaToneya Burwell, Director of Community Relations from DHS at the Community Board 14 meeting. Harry Fried, Housing Bridge, and LaToneya Burwell, Director of Community Relations from DHS at the Community Board 14 meeting. However, Johnson expressed her own frustration with the decision throughout the meeting. Addressing the public, she said that the decision was revealed to the community board in the, “same shocking way that it is being revealed to you.” “Every communiqué since last April came back saying that this was not going forward,” said Johnson. She claims that as late as May, “the borough president said that it was not going to happen.”

On July 17, The Wave revealed it had obtained documents clearly showing Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, Councilmember Donovan Richards and several other elected officials were told by DHS and other city agencies – going back as long as three months — there were no plans to for a shelter in Rockaway. LaToneya Burwell, Director of Community Relations at DHS, gave a short speech in which she explained the city is in the midst of a homelessness emergency due to the economic crisis and that there are more than 55,000 homeless individuals in New York City.

Burwell said DHS is currently working with 1900 families who are “experiencing” homelessness and mentioned that in New York City there is a legal right to shelter. She noted that 21 percent of the individuals DHS works with were experiencing domestic violence before they became homeless and said that, “they are people, they are not data.” Harry Fried, the COO/CFO of Housing Bridge, tried to assuage the crowd by pointing out that there is 24- hour security at the facility, cameras that record “every inch” of the building, and a 10 p.m. curfew every night of the week. He claimed that there is usually resistance to these projects, but that, “a year or 18 months from now, 95 percent of the people will say that they are not happy with a shelter, but that it is not causing us any problems.”

According to Burwell and Fried, DHS pays shelters an average of $120 per unit, per week. Housing Bridge has 155 units in its Daytop Village location resulting in a payment from DHS of around $967,000 a year. Fried claimed that there were economic benefits for the neighborhood as well. He said that Housing Bridge will hire seven people for residential aid positions who will be paid $11 an hour. An unresolved question from the public is whether or not sex offenders will be able to be housed in the shelter. The city does not allow sex offenders to live within 1,000 feet of a school or a park, making them ineligible to be housed in the new shelter.

DHS had not returned a call for comment on this issue at the time of publication. However, during the meeting Burwell said that, in terms of individuals with criminal records or sex offenders, “the profile of the families are no different than from any other community around the city.” Members of the pubic also felt like they were lied to because of the term “adult families” in reference to the individuals that will be living in the homeless shelter. Many, including Rockaway resident Erica Pandey, said that that term made them believe that these families would have children, which is not the case, as only adults and their adult children will be housed in the facility. Shortly before the meeting ended, many members of the public spoke out against the Mayor, and calls to vote him out of office from members of the public were met with cheers and applause.

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Meeting was held by Community

Meeting was held by Community Board 14 Social/Health Committee.

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