Ozone Park drop-in center opening despite protest

Ozone Park drop-in center opening despite protest
Photo by Michael Shain
By Gina Martinez

A heavily opposed Ozone Park homeless shelter is opening despite residents’ and lawmakers’ concerns.

The landlord of 100-32 Atlantic Ave., previously a Dallas Bros. Coffee House, signed a lease Feb. 23 with the city Department of Homeless Services. The property will be the new location of the controversial drop-in center.

The center will be just 250 feet away from the High School for Construction, Trades, Engineering and Architecture. Residents have been protesting the shelter, saying the quality of life would decline and children’s safety would be in danger.

Non-profit Breaking Grounds will run the transitional home. The organization, which has several locations in all five boroughs, 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.

Jeff Scheuer, vice president of external affairs at Breaking Ground, said the Ozone Park center will help the homelessness problem in Queens.

“New York City is facing a homelessness crisis and our new location will help the homeless in Queens with accessing food, medical care and comprehensive case management,” he said. “This is a successful model and will be a critical resource to move these vulnerable New Yorkers from the streets into permanent supportive housing. Since 1990 Breaking Ground has helped more than 13,000 people escape and avoid homelessness.”

There were reports of angry protesters in front of the Ozone Park property Sunday

DHS argues the shelter is necessary in the area.

“Queens currently has zero locations to serve street homeless individuals,” DHS said in a statement. “We will be using this location as a safe haven and drop-in center to bring this borough’s homeless neighbors off of the streets and in from the cold. We need every community to come together to address homelessness, which is a problem in each of the five boroughs.”

State Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven), who has spoken out against the shelter since August, said he is frustrated with DHS choosing this particular site.

“There is a school just a block away, with small businesses next to this location.” he said. “I cannot count how many times I have told the mayor’s administration that this is not the right location. I could start with the fact there is no mass transit and continue that we have residences surrounding this property and throughout the area.”

Miller said his office reached out to DHS and Breaking Grounds for a proposal from DHS and was shut out.

“My office was essentially told that Department of Homeless Services said they could not provide that information,” he said. “When I asked Breaking Ground for details regarding their plan, it was the same stance my office got from Department of Homeless Services. No matter how many times I asked for updated information, both organizations were not forth coming. This is the process? Where is the community involvement? As a matter of fact, where is the communication with the local elected officials?”

City Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica) moderated a rowdy town hall on the center in November. He also said the location was not ideal for this shelter.

“I’ve said it in the past — a facility that serves an adult homeless population simply should not be located less than 200 feet from a school,” he said. “The current deficiencies within the Department of Homeless Services and its providers have led to both unintentional and blatant violations of state statutes that govern the movement of certain sex offenders.

He said he has repeatedly urged DHS and Breaking Ground to reconsider.”

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