Flushing church’s act of kindness backfires

THE COURIER/photo by Melissa Chan

Leaders of a local Christian church are bemoaning an act of kindness after spending $2,000 in legal fees and close to two years to try to evict a pair of stubborn squatters they say have no plans to leave.

The Queensboro Hill Community Church of Flushing opened its doors to two homeless women and their dog a year-and-a-half ago when church officials found the down-on-their-luck duo sleeping on a mat in a 4×8 room in the basement, said Joe Illigasch, who has close ties with the church.

The pair, Illigasch said, promised they only needed a short amount of time to get back on their feet. But five months later, it was clear to the congregation the mooching mates had no plans to hit the road, Illigasch said.

Illigasch, 70, said he went to the police, who told him the church could not legally boot the ladies after housing them for more than 30 days. The church, he said, then hired a lawyer who said the unwelcome, non-rent paying tenants might not have to leave until an agreement is reached between them, the church and housing courts on a mutually agreed upon date.

“We gave them money. We fed them. We encouraged them,” Illigasch said. “In the beginning, the pastor kept saying [turning them out] isn’t the Christian way. You have to give them time. You try to be a good person and follow the law, but the law is just not written properly. Common sense doesn’t prevail.”

The twosome, Judy B. and Mary M. — who did not want their last names published — said they never wanted to take advantage of the church.

“It’s not that we want to stay here any longer than we have to. We’re sleeping in a room on the floor. When I have to get up in the middle of the night, I honestly have to wiggle across the stage on a pillow because I can’t get up myself,” said Judy, 64. “I understand they’re mad, but we have no place to go.”

Judy, who relies on Social Security disability funds, said she’s tied down by medical bills for recent eye surgery and ailments stemming from old age, including arthritis in her knees. She also refuses to part with her 11-year-old unofficial service dog.

“I’m willing to go live on the street. It’s not a situation where we’re trying to use them,” Judy said. “I don’t know if they understand what it’s like. Why would somebody want to stay here like this?”

Mary, 54, who had a job cleaning the church but is currently unemployed, said she saw the house of worship as a “sanctuary” and attributed bad credit ratings to why the two could not find another living situation. The pair, who have been roommates for two decades, had owed an undisclosed amount of money to former landlords in the past but reached negotiations in court for the payments, Mary said.

“I know it is killing both sides,” she said. “I’m moving heaven and earth to get out of here.”

The two women have until Friday, August 3 to move out, according to an order by a Queens County Housing Court judge.

“It’s incredible what they’ve done to us,” Illigasch said. “That church will never let anybody in again.”

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