Though most residents said they opposed the center, planned for the former Dallis Brothers Coffee facility at 100-32 Atlantic Ave., the tone was much more subdued than recent opposition to shelter proposals in Maspeth, Glendale and Jamaica. Some attendees were even open to welcoming the center to Ozone Park.
The facility would be operated by CAMBA, a nonprofit that offers short-term services to the homeless. The center would be open for meals and showers, and serve as a short-stay residence for homeless persons.
Simcha Waisman, vice president of the Richmond Hill Block Association, said the neighborhood (which borders Ozone Park) would fight the shelter plan. He worried that the shelter would quickly be forgotten once it’s established.
“The city will put that shelter there, and then the city will walk away from it and forget about it,” he said. “We say no.”
One of the major issues with the drop-in center was that it would be only a few hundred feet from the High School for Construction Trades, Engineering and Architecture (HSCTEA), which elected officials said would be illegal. It would also be close to several other schools, including P.S. 306 in Woodhaven, P.S. 273 in Richmond Hill and St. Mary Gate Of Heaven Catholic Academy and P.S. 65, both several blocks south in Ozone Park.
“It is not the 1,000 feet required by law for a shelter to be from a school,” Councilman Ruben Wills said, describing the facility as a “mini-shelter.”
Paul Capocasale, a Woodhaven resident and past member of the PTA at HSCTEA, said the distance from the proposed center to the school would be less than 200 feet.
Several residents who spoke also worried about the type of people who would coming to the center and whether they could expect mentally ill people or those addicted to drugs to be roaming the neighborhood streets while utilizing the services at the facility.
City officials and CAMBRA have told several civic leaders that they cannot guarantee that sex offenders or anyone dangerous would not reside at the shelter.
But Maria Estrada, a resident of Richmond Hill, said she would be fine with the center opening near her house. She explained that she had experience dealing with the homeless and felt that if the center was needed, then it should be opened.
“I do believe homelessness can happen to anyone,” Estrada said. “They’re people and they need help.”
Despite opposing the center for various reason, Wills asked residents to not to go down the path of disparaging the homeless.
“NIMBY is not a good idea,” he said. “If not but by the grace of God, we could be there ourselves. I ask that you be forceful in your opposition, but respectful. This community is a community that understands we have a burden to help those in need.”
The proposed center sparked a debate over how the city should deal with its ongoing homeless crisis. CB 9 member Joel Kuszai posed the question to Assemblyman Mike Miller, who also opposed the shelter.
“We should be investing in supportive housing,” Miller said, explaining that the city should be looking for permanent homes and apartments for homeless, allowing them to blend into communities, rather than “warehousing” them in hotels and centers.
Miller added that the state has allocated $2 billion toward supportive housing.
“We want to be able to do the right thing, and not just warehouse these folks,” he said. “We want to get them back on their feet.”
Dr. Stephen Sofer, a CB 9 member, agreed: “The shelter model we have currently is wrong and we need to change it.”