Councilman Wills addresses proposed drop-in center in Ozone Park

Councilman Wills addresses proposed drop-in center in Ozone Park
During the press conference, Ruben Wills shakes hands with a homeless woman who wandered into the event and defended people like herself who use the shelter system.
Photo by Michael Shain
By Gina Martinez

City Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Richmond Hill) and state Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Jamaica) held a news conference in front of the proposed drop-in center on 100- 32 Atlantic Ave. urging the Department of Homeless Services to reconsider the site. The lawmakers were joined by community leaders who all agreed that a homeless shelter should not be opened when there are two schools less than 1,000 feet away from the site.

Wills also announced a town hall meeting Oct. 25 and invited DHS and Breaking Grounds to attend.

The proposed transitional home would be run by the non-profit Breaking Grounds, which has several locations in all five boroughs. Breaking Grounds is a street outreach program that provides supportive temporary housing to the homeless while helping them find permanent housing. During their stay, the organization provides them with food, medical care and a place to sleep.

Wills’s main concern against the shelter is that Breaking Grounds does not screen for sex offenders.

According to Wills, New York State Penal Law 65.10 prohibits certain geographically restricted sex offenders from knowingly entering into or upon a school’s grounds. High School For Construction Trades, Engineering And Architecture is just two blocks away and PS 161 Arthur Ashe School is three blocks away.

The Pan Am hotel, which is being used to shelter homeless in Elmhurst, came under fire for allowing two sex offenders to slip through.

“This is neither about the reputation of Breaking Ground nor its performance in providing bridges to supportive and affordable housing to the city’s street homeless,” Wills said. “On the other hand, I do not wish for it to be associated with the inadequacies that have led to unintentional violations of state statutes that govern the movements of certain sex offenders. A facility that serves an adult homeless population simply should not be located less than 200 feet from a school.”

Wills said he had asked DHS and Breaking Ground to consider another location.

He urged the city agency and nonprofit to attend the two hall to hear from the community and to describe the merits of their own plan.

Toward the end of the news conference a homeless woman approached Wills and stood up for the homeless, making sure to remind people that not all homeless people are bad.

“I’m homeless because I got evicted by my daughter,” she said. “I lived in Whitestone for 40 years and I got evicted. Now I have to live in a shelter until I get housing. I’m not an alcoholic, not everyone who lives in a shelter is a bad person, I’m a professional . I want you to take a look at the people who live in the shelters.”

Miller wants the city to step up and find better solutions to solve the homeless crisis in New York.

“Not all homeless people are drug addicts and sex offenders,” Miller said. “We want to help everyone, we just don’t think this is the location. I just don’t think putting them in a warehouse is the answer, I don’t think putting them in a hotel is the answer. There are so many vacant properties, let’s utilize them, let’s put people in them.”

He pointed out that years ago there was a program at the city and state level that helped people stay in their apartments. “When we faced a budget crisis, we couldn’t continue it, and Bloomberg dropped it,” Miller said, referring to the former mayor. “There are solutions, we’d like to work with the city, we’d love to work to find a better place for this shelter.”

Stanley Shuckman has been the landlord of the lot directly across the proposed drop-in center for over 32 years and he is against the shelter. He said there is already a homeless problem and the shelter would only intensify it.

“It attracts homeless people even before there’s a homeless shelter,” he said, “and the reason is because we have a Chase bank with people coming to shop with money and so we are constantly dealing with panhandlers. Last week alone we had to call 911 at least on two occasions. One evening I even had to have a security guard here. “

Shuckman said he is a hands-on landlord, “but if I were a more absentee manager, we would really have a serious problem.”

Community Board 9’s town hall meeting is set for Oct. 25 at Richi Rich Palace on 110-19 Atlantic Ave. The meeting will begin at 6 p.m.

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

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