Eastern Queens might seem like an unlikely spot for making a dent in the city’s homeless population. But the warring governor and mayor just might strike a compromise on using Creedmoor Psychiatric Center as a shelter.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is talking about housing some homeless New Yorkers at Creedmoor’s 350-acre campus, split between Glen Oaks and Queens Village. Parts of the complex have been sold off since the state began emptying the institution of 7,000 patients in the 1960s. Fewer than 400 residents are left today.
Some buildings remain unoccupied and could provide critical housing as the city’s homeless population surges past 60,000. According to the Coalition for the Homeless, families represent 80 percent of the people living in city shelters, including 23,000 children.
After the governor criticized Bill de Blasio for not handling the homeless crisis, the mayor launched a program last week to track and curb street homelessness, the most visible part of the vexing problem.
A recent New York Times/Siena College poll found 62 percent of New Yorkers disapproved of the mayor’s approach to the homeless issue, which could be an incentive for him to sign on to the Creedmoor concept despite his deep differences with Cuomo.
Creedmoor is located in a solidly middle-class section of Queens, where many lawmakers, civic leaders and residents are expected to strongly oppose having a large shelter in their suburban midst.
But the politics have changed in the area, which used to be represented by state Sen. Frank Padavan, a powerful Republican who defeated efforts to use Creedmoor as a place for prison parolees in the 1980s. He did persuade the state and city to build three public schools on the grounds, now called the Padavan Campus. Leroy Comrie, a longtime southeast Queens Democrat newly elected to the seat, sees Creedmoor as providing a second chance for the homeless because of the government services available there for the 1,600 outpatients.
Queens is no stranger to the shelter challenge. DHS’s stealth approach to opening a shelter in the former Pan American Hotel in East Elmhurst last year without notifying the community has drawn fire from city lawmakers and neighbors. This is not the game plan to follow.
The Creedmoor conversation, which involves other state-owned psychiatric centers, is off to a good start. The public knows the governor has discussed the site for a shelter. The mayor seems open to the idea. Supporters and critics are on notice to line up and make their cases.
Let the debate begin.