By Bill Parry
For more than two months, members of the Maspeth-Middle Village Task Force have rallied against a proposed homeless shelter for families at the Holiday Inn Express on 55th Road. They built a coalition of more than 20 civic associations and traveled to Bellerose, Rosedale and Sunset Park, Brooklyn, to protest outside other shelters or partly converted hotels and twice rallied outside the home of Human Resources Administration Commissioner Steven Banks, drawing the ire of Mayor Bill de Blasio.
On Wednesday morning the task force took its message, that putting homeless in hotels is bad policy, to the steps of City Hall, where they were joined by 60 protesters from Rockaway who were angry with the Department of Homeless Services for renting rooms at the Playland Motel last week. Saying he was “outraged,” City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) reserved the steps so he and several other elected officials could denounce de Blasio’s “hopeless homeless policies” with a public demonstration.
“There are 10,000 more homeless men, women and children since the day the mayor took office,” Ulrich said. “The mayor has no plan to help these people. Our hearts break for the 10,000 children in these shelters. People are here in the pouring rain because they’re angry with this administration.”
They Maspeth protestersalso became angry with Ulrich. Before the event got underway his chief of staff Kevin Tschirhart tried to get the protesters to lower some of the more offensive signs they were holding, saying “his office wanted to stick to the issue and not make it political.” Tony Nunziato, the leader of the task force, threatened to takehis protesters back to Maspeth.
“I didn’t like him sending over his chief of staff trying to censor us, I was upset by that,” Juniper Park Civic Association President Bob Holden said. “You’re not going to tell us how to protest, that’s our First Amendment rights. And then we weren’t allowed to speak. I worked with Ulrich for over a month. It was supposed to be scheduled for us, but the politicians took it over.”
So after Ulrich and the other elected officials, including state Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) and state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) were finished speaking, the members of the Maspeth-Middle Village Task Force spread across the steps of City Hall and let loose chants of “hey, ho, de Blasio’s got to go” and “dump the dope from Park Slope” for nearly 10 minutes while mayoral spokeswoman Aja Worthy Davis was watching.
“Protesters first claimed they weren’t notified about sitings, and then we proved them wrong when they directed their anger toward homeless women and children themselves,” Worthy-Davis said. They are focused on rejecting shelters and also temporary hotel usage — leaving our city with no viable option to help shelter those in need. The mayor has been clear — homelesssness is a citywide problem and each community will play its part. Local elected officials should have the courage to take on this problem with the mayor, rather than rally against housing homeless children in their communities.”
Holden was baffled by the statement.
“But we don’t have children in Maspeth, only single men,” he said. “Aja Worthy-Davis is just a mouthpiece for de Blasio and to attack constituents like that is shameful. She should have listened to the three sheltered families we had with us today. That’s what communists do. It’s propaganda.”
Meanwhile, Peralta sounded the alarm Thursday that a Level 2 sex offender was moved into the Holiday Inn Express on Corona, a partially converted homeless shelter at 113-10 Horace Harding Expressway. Hours later, 41-year-old Nevil Bruce, who is listed on the state sex offender registry, was transferred out of the facility.
“There are currently no individuals living at this Corona location who are on the registry,” DHS Spokeswoman Lauren Gray said.
Peralta was thankful DHS moved swiftly to remove him.
“It is my hope that the city agency improves its vetting practice to make sure this kind of situation does not happen again,” he said.
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr