Smart Street group home working well, Liu says

By Cynthia Koons

“Judging by the light turnout and having received no complaints, I believe we're off to a good start this time,” Liu said.The opening of the group home for undocumented immigrant teenagers sparked controversy in the surrounding neighborhoods, where residents feared it would bring some of the same headaches that a previous group home at the same location had caused.The new facility, which opened at 47-22 Smart St. last month, was created through a federal program that helps place undocumented immigrant teenagers with sponsor families when they are caught crossing the border. It is the first facility of its kind in the Northeast.Prior to this, Children's Village ran a group home for juvenile delinquents at the same address that closed in June 2003 after the number of children in the federal system declined. Area residents had complained at previous meetings that Children's Village had not properly supervised the group home.Residents from the Holly Civic and Kissena Park associations attended a neighborhood meeting in November to tell Liu about what they contended was violent behavior they saw exhibited at the largely unsupervised group home that closed in 2003. These claims could never be independently verified by police sources.”Dialogue and community impact are essential in striking a good balance with the goals for this program,” Liu said. “Much of the credit is due to the community residents whose very concern at the outset was able to raise the attention level to both the Children's Village and the Office of Refugee Resettlement.”Seven youths are currently living at the Smart Street home, although it has the capacity to house as many as 12 teens. There are daily activities scheduled for the teenagers and Liu said they are not to leave the premises unsupervised. The federal government, which oversees the program and sent representatives to Flushing to explain the program to residents last month, said teens should be in the house for no more than six weeks.So far none of the first seven residents has found host families. Reach reporter Cynthia Koons by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.

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