Close to home closed: Comrie

By Sadef Ali Kully

The proposed plan for a juvenile group home at a Queens Village site has been revoked, residents and elected officials announced this week at the Queens Baptist Church in Queens Village.

The former Merrick Academy elementary school building at the corner of 207th Street and Jamaica Avenue was the planned site for a juvenile group home, administered by Administration for Children’s Services, the city agency.

The group home for juvenile delinquents was to be part of the Close to Home Initiative, a state program launched in 2012 to help juvenile offenders transition into the communities they left behind during their time in the state’s corrections system.

“The people are not powerless—the community is not powerless,” state Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-Hollis) said. “The movement was made by the community for the community.”

Comrie said ACS Commissioner Gladys Carrión called him Saturday to tell him that the Queens Village site would no longer be needed as part of the Close to Home Initiative and promised him a letter in writing.

For the last two months, every Saturday afternoon, residents and community leaders held protests at the site, which were organized by the Queens Village Civic Association and Bob Friedrich, a Democratic City Council candidate for the open seat in District 23.

“This is the best news ever,” Leonard Hookum, a Queens Village Civic Association trustee, said. “We organized with Bob quickly when our president and vice president found out and we worked diligently.”

Hookum’s only concern now is to make sure the former school building is used for something positive in the community.

“It was important to have a protest every week to build critical mass. There is a difference between proactive and reactive actions,” Friedrich said.

Comrie’s staff had organized three committees involved in efforts to take on the city agency, including a lawsuit. Attorney Ali Najmi, who is also a Democratic candidate for the City Council District 23 seat, said, “I was ready to file on Monday.”

The other juvenile group home site in Queens is located in South Ozone Park. Local residents and community leaders have been fighting aggressively since January to keep the facility out of their neighborhood.

“We want to help them and there is still an opportunity to pull that off,” Comrie said, who visited Councilman Ruben Wills (D-South Ozone Park) the morning before the announcement to show support in their efforts. .

An ACS spokesman pointed out that “after reviewing our projected needs for youth in limited secure placement facilities, we have determined that we have the capacity to launch Close to Home Phase II without the Queens Village site.”

Comrie had a further explanation.

“The main reason is clearly they knew they did not do a fair, open process. I applaud the commissioner for bailing when she did,” Comrie said. “The coalition [of local organizations and residents] forming here—[ACS] had a real fight on their hands.”

Reach Reporter Sadef Ali Kully by e-mail at skully@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4546.