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CB 12 claims oversaturation in shelter dispute

Isaac Leshinsky talks about Housing Bridge's plans to open a new family homeless shelter in Jamaica. Photo by Ivan Pereira
By Ivan Pereira

The heads of a nonprofit group that wants to build a homeless shelter in Jamaica and members of Community Board 12 got into a heated clash last week during the board’s monthly meeting over the controversial proposal.

The June 16 meeting was the first time the administrators of Housing Bridge had met with the board since they submitted their proposal in March to the city Department of Homeless Services to open a 54-unit shelter for families at 170-02 93rd Ave.

Neighborhood residents, elected officials and board members have been blunt about their disapproval of the center because southeast Queens is home to nine of the borough’s 17 homeless shelters, according to Adoja Gzifa, chairwoman of CB 12.

“We’ve done the research and we know our community is oversaturated with shelters,” she said.

Isaac Leshinsky, president and chief executive officer of Housing Bridge, and director of his group’s shelters in East Elmhurst, Manhattan and Brooklyn tried to quell those concerns by telling the board how their services work.

All of their clients are referred to them by the Department of Homeless Services and must have children, according to Leshinsky. The clients come to them for different reasons, such as domestic abuse, fires and even unemployment, he said.

At their centers, the clients work with social workers and other counselors to get back on their feet with job training, education and help with finding a home, the president said.

“It is the forefront of putting our families into permanent housing,” Leshinsky said of the shelters.

Leshinsky said that all of his facilities have a full security staff and strict curfew rules to prevent tenants from loitering in the neighborhood.

The board members, however, were still not impressed.

Manny Caughman questioned if the group had the necessary certificate of occupancy to operate the shelter, since the building was offered to Housing Bridge by the landlord.

Leshinsky said he did not have the certificate yet, which created an uproar as the meeting’s attendees digested the news.

When Leshinsky added that the shelter would be able to provide 40 jobs for people in the area, Gzifa countered his pitch by saying:

“Forty jobs and we have, what, 350,000 people? That’s nothing. That’s a drop in the bucket,” she said.

A spokeswoman for the Dept. of Homeless Services said it has begun contract negotiations with Housing Bridge and would inform the community about future plans.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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