An overwhelming fear of the unknown is keeping Hillcrest residents from embracing a proposed housing unit set to lodge mental and chronic health patients in their community.
“There are too many people, too many variables and too many things that can go wrong,” said Ed Leahy of the Hillcrest Estate Civic Association.
A coalition of civic leaders and elected officials said they would roadblock Queens Hospital Center’s (QHC) bid to develop a deteriorated 10-story building on the hospital’s campus into affordable housing for low-income individuals and QHC patients with psychiatric diagnoses or chronic illnesses, including AIDS.
QHC is in talks with Comunilife, a nonprofit human services agency, to build 251 units in the “T-Building” at 82-68 164th Street, The Courier first reported last December.
But civic leaders said the “questionable population” could put children at nearby schools in danger.
“I empathize with mental illness and AIDS patients. I do. But you must understand that my job is the safety of those little children,” said Judy Henry, principal of Queens Gateway to Health Sciences Secondary School.
Residents cited the December 14, 2012 elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut as a cause for concern. The teen who massacred 26 children and adults was reportedly diagnosed as mentally ill.
“An ‘I told you so’ will never bring back a child after an incident has occurred,” said Maria DeInnocentiis, chair of the Utopia Estates Civic Association.
QHC and Comunilife officials said only “appropriate” residents would be picked to live in the development. Registered sex offenders and those who exhibit violent behavior would be screened out. Residents would also be assigned caseworkers and monitored all day, they said.
“The individuals who would be residing in the apartments that we’re proposing are the very same individuals who are coming every day already on the campus,” said LaRay Brown, senior vice president of corporate planning for the city’s Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC).
Casandra Cox, a Bronx Comunilife resident diagnosed with major depression and anxiety, said she fears residents are blinded by a stigma against the mentally ill.
“I lost everything. Comunilife has been a lifesaver for me,” said Cox, 69. “People don’t understand. They all think what happened in Connecticut is going to happen here. We’re not a threat to the community.”
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