Maspeth leaders, residents continue homeless shelter protest

Maspeth leaders, residents continue homeless shelter protest
Photo by Michael Shain
By Gina Martinez

Protests have continued for the last week outside the proposed Maspeth homeless shelter site and will continue until the public hearing Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Knockdown Center on Flushing Avenue. The meeting, organized by Community Board 5, is expected to draw a crowd of more than 1,000 people.

The controversy began when the Mayor’s Office met with CB5 and elected officials at the Maspeth Public Library earlier this month. At the meeting plans for a potential Oct. 1 opening of the shelter at 59-40 55th Road were proposed. The shelter would house 220 people, according to the Department of Homeless Services. There are currently about 250 people in shelters who listed their most recent address as Community District 5 in Queens, according to DHS, but the Maspeth facility would be open to people from across the city.

What followed was a tense town hall meeting Aug. 18 where the DHS and community leaders met with the Maspeth community to listen to concerns about the proposed shelter. Residents’ main complaints were that there were already three homeless shelters in the area and they feared the shelter would negatively affect the neighborhood.

At the meeting DHS tried to explain its mission to Maspeth residents.

“New York City is legally obligated to provide shelter to any New Yorker who would otherwise be turned out onto the streets,” a DHS spokeswoman said. “We have met with community leaders and participated in an open community forum to continue to build a constructive dialogue around this issue. Homelessness is a citywide challenge that requires a citywide response.”

Unsatisfied with what they heard from officials at the town hall meeting, dozens of Maspeth residents marched to the Holiday Inn Express and protested into the night after the meeting ended. Protests have since continued when COMET President Roe Daraio organized a weeklong protest building up to the Knockdown Center meeting. Protesters have held up signs in front of the Holiday Inn Express every night. On the association’s website, Daraio wrote: “This is our community and we all need to stick together! I know the weather has been brutal, but please try to come out and support your neighbors. This will be ongoing for the entire week.”

Manuel Caruana, a member of the Juniper Park Civic Association, has attended every protest and said protesters will not let up until the proposal is dead.

“Right now the meetings (protests) are going to continue every evening. There’s not going to be any end to that,” he said. “We’re going to continue to protest. The shelter is not going to go through. It’s ridiculous that a neighborhood is so against it and we have no say in it. We’ll do whatever it takes so it won’t open.”

Caruana also said tensions continue to rise among residents and protesters the longer this is dragged out.

“It’s getting nasty, they’re getting fed up,” he said. “If you live in a democracy, you would hope you have a say in what happens to your community. “

Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at gmartinez@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.