Residents riled up over Hollis veteran housing

By Sadef Ali Kully

Dozens of upset and frustrated Hollis residents joined the People for the Neighborhood community group at a town hall meeting at St. Matthew’s Church Tuesday to discuss the controversial issue of homeless veterans who moved into the supportive housing units inside buildings on Hollis Avenue.

For over a year residents battled the city through protests and legal measures to prevent another homeless shelter from coming into southeast Queens. At this point southeast Queens has more than 10 homeless shelters, which account for over 50 percent of all the shelters in the borough.

Last month 30 homeless veterans moved into supportive housing units in abandoned buildings owned by Queens landlord Rita Stark, according to the city’s Human Resources Administration,

People of the Neighborhood went to Queens Supreme Court to obtain a temporary restraining order, but the request was dismissed last month due to the wrong entity named on the petition, according to court records.

“If we had a collective response, then we would have a better outcome,” said Anthony Rivers, spokesman for the People of the Neighborhood. “We cannot allow our community to be overran by elected officials. At some point we have to come together as one to stand up and fight. We cannot allow this to happen.”

Hollis residents and community members were at odds with each other about the next steps to take against the city. Some residents walked out of the meeting, saying the group should have hired an attorney to fight the city.

“Despite the outcome, I am happy we took a stand as a neighborhood to put the city on notice that we are not gonna take it anymore,” Rivers said.

Rev. Charles Norris and Rev. James Barnwell both attended the town hall meeting and defended elected officials, who many residents blamed for not doing enough for their constituents by saving the Hollis buildings from supportive housing for homeless people.

“Let me say this – this group has done a fine job. This situation is like when there is a house on fire and the firefighters are putting the fire out, but people around are asking who started the fire? What should the firemen do? Put the fire out or find out who started the fire?” Norris asked.

Other residents said the veterans should be welcomed into the neighborhood.

“My father was a veteran. These men fought for our country and it is disappointing because they are in a difficult situation,” said Ezulda Antrum, a Hollis resident.

Joanne Whitehead, one of the petitioners who filed the restraining order, said, “We have no [problems] with the veterans and they know that. We suspended our protests on purpose because we did not want to stigmatize them in any way. We did not want them to feel unwelcomed.”

Rivers pointed out the buildings would be housing veterans, some with specials needs, but the citydid not have any medical and/or social services available on site, “If they don’t have them now, then when will they have them? We have to now make sure those veterans get those services.”

Residents weary over the outcome of the campaign against the Hollis buildings said the only conclusion they could come to would be oppose elected officials during an election cycle.

Reach Reporter Sadef Ali Kully by e-mail at skull[email protected]local.com or by phone at (718) 260–4546.

More from Around New York