Look carefully over Glendale this morning and you’ll see a white flag flying over the neighborhood.
It was raised during Community Board 5’s meeting last Wednesday, July 9, when Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi told those opposed to a homeless shelter opening in Glendale there was no hope to stop the Department of Homeless Services’ (DHS) misguided and insensitive plan.
“This game is over,” Hevesi said, going on to note that “we’ve had protests. People didn’t listen; the city didn’t listen. I actually went to the DHS and threatened them. They still didn’t listen.”
Hevesi suggested intervention by City Comptroller Scott Stringer to block the proposal-which many shelter opponents considered a last resort-was also futile, as he could only refuse to sign off on the contract “if the numbers don’t add up.”
While Hevesi said he would continue to fight the shelter plan, he cautioned that the community should nonetheless prepare for the shelter to happen, and focus on addressing the most pressing concerns related to its operations.
Nearly a year has passed since Samaritan Village officially pitched its proposal to the DHS to build a transitional housing shelter at 78-16 Cooper Ave., a long-unused industrial factory in the heart of an industrial area. Repeatedly, in this very space, we have warned how disastrous this plan would be for both the community at large and for the homeless people the city plans to put there.
We’d repeat our reasons to oppose the Glendale shelter, but who would listen? Certainly not Samaritan Village, whose financial practices are openly questioned by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli; nor would the DHS, which has listened to absolutely, positively no one opposed to this project at all. They heard the sound and the fury-but they blew everyone off.
The city has an obligation to house the homeless, but its homeless housing system is a disgrace. For decades, it has warehoused thousands of poor people in unsafe facilities with lax security and shoddy conditions. Yet the DHS refuses to change this, even as Mayor Bill de Blasio pushes a housing plan that gives homeless persons a way out of the shelters and into individual, sustainable housing.
Based on the half-assed environmental study it hired a supposedly independent firm to complete, the DHS concluded that 78-16 Cooper Ave.-long used for industry and located adjacent to a chemical storage plant-is safe for a homeless shelter. This is a site that the city School Construction Authority- an agency so desperate for new schools that it would build one in thin air, if that were possible-rejected years ago as inappropriate.
But the DHS claimed the site is perfect for a warehouse to indiscriminantly stuff hundreds of homeless people. Their contempt extends not only to the community where they wish to build this shelter, but also to the homeless people they will serve.
Do we, as New Yorkers, want the DHS acting in this shameful manner in our name? It seems the DHS is only concerned about getting homeless people off the streets, and not about their safety, their well-being and their recovery. If they cared, they certainly wouldn’t think of letting anyone spend a night at 78-16 Cooper Ave.
This is why we need to lower the white flag and keep fighting. This is more than a battle over one shelter in one community. This is about stopping a city agency, acting on our behalf, from imposing inhumane policies. Defund the DHS; this city and its homeless population deserve better.