By Mark Hallum
The Bayside Hills Civic Association held a candidates forum at the Colonial Church of Bayside Tuesday night where those running for public office in northeast Queens discussed homeless shelters and the Syrian refugee crisis.
BHCA President Michael Feiner led the discussion, which included state Senate candidates Carlos Giron, who is challenging absent state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing); Mark Cipolla, challenging absent state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside); Usman Ali, who is going up against state Assemblywoman Nily Rozic (D-Flushing); Assemblyman Edward Braunstein (D-Bayside), who is running unopposed; and Daniel Maio running against U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing).
Candidates for Assembly were questioned about how they would prevent homeless shelters in residential neighborhoods being converted from hotels.
Ali said he did not agree with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to resolve the homeless crisis and would work together with other public officials to block any attempts to warehouse homeless people in his district if he were to win.
The issue is raising concerns among residents in Fresh Meadows because of two hotels being built in the area, Rozic said. But the likelihood these hotels could become shelters are rumors at this point, and she told attendees that she has voiced open opposition to the administration making any deals to house homeless people at these locations.
“I will continue to advocate for people in our community,” Rozic said. “Having said that, families do need a place to stay, especially when we’re talking about young kids being without a home. We need to make sure that our city, state and federal government are doing everything that they can to give families opportunities, jobs so that they don’t actually have to rely on homeless shelters.”
Cipolla claimed Avella, as chairman of the Senate’s Family Services Committee, has the leverage to stop homeless shelters from appearing in his district and has not exerted his power on the issue. The former prosecutor explained that the issue was foreseeable two years ago, yet nothing had been done to prevent homeless shelters from springing up in the first place.
Since the beginning of the Syrian refugee crisis, the United States has admitted up to 10,000 displaced peoples from the Middle East, according to Meng. But when it comes to tougher vetting procedures, she said resources could be better spent in other areas of immigration reform.
Meng explained that one of the most stringent procedures for immigrants to enter the country involves applying as a refugee. Vetting of displaced Syrians is not a procedure that requires as much improvement as the immigration process in general. Legislation for stronger border checks and providing Kennedy Airport with more agents to screen immigrants are projects she has worked on in the past at the federal level.
She also believes there needs to be reform to the system in which a legal citizen is able to petition to have family brought to the U.S. from abroad, while ensuring that individuals being deported are done so for the right reasons.
According to Maio, securing the borders of the United States should be an easy task considering the technology available today. All it would take is better enforcement, he said.
Giron was asked about the possibility of funding a soccer stadium in Queens, and responded that it would be good use of government land and raise revenue for the borough as well as the quality-of-life.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall