‘They might as well empty Rikers’: Ulrich & Ozone Park residents slam men’s homeless shelter plan

Photo by Jenna Bagcal/QNS

Ozone Park residents and community leaders are fiercely against Mayor Bill de Blasio’s planned homeless shelter in their neighborhood.

At Tuesday’s Community Board 9 meeting in Ozone Park, several speakers came before the board — and an audience of hundreds of people — to express their disapproval of plans for a homeless shelter at the former site of Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church on 86th Street at 101st Avenue.

The proposed shelter is expected to house over 100 men with mental illnesses, and residents said that they fear for the safety of the community and a diminished quality of life.

“It’s about common sense, safety and the concern for our children, our seniors, our neighbors, our residences, our businesses and our community. It is about the quality of life being interrupted by what [there] inevitably will be: robberies, fights, burglaries, stabbings, shootings, defecating, urinating and possible sexual abuses,” said Sam Esposito, a lifelong Ozone Park resident.

He mentioned that a similar situation occurred during his time as a police officer when the Bedford Armory in Brooklyn first went up. He said that crime in the neighborhood “spiraled out of control” after the 350-bed shelter opened its doors, and feared that the same would happen in Ozone Park.

Councilman Eric Ulrich voiced his opposition to the shelter, saying that he spoke with Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Steve Banks and told him that he couldn’t place the proposed homeless shelter in Ozone Park.

“They might as well empty Rikers and put it on 101st Avenue,” Ulrich said.

He added that instead of designating the shelter for mentally ill men, it could be used to house women and children or war veterans instead. Representatives from the offices of Assemblyman Michael Miller, Congresswoman Nydia Velasquez and Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz echoed Ulrich’s sentiments.

State Senator Joe Addabbo took a stance against the issue, saying that the mayor’s plan is “ill conceived.”

“I stand ready to use my prior experiences with this mayor’s administration and its $2 billion worth of failed homeless policies to work with my colleagues in government, the local police precinct and area residents in addressing the many issues regarding this Ozone Park site,” Addabbo said in a statement released shortly before the June 12 meeting. “I intend to urge the mayor’s office to reconsider this proposal for a number of valid reasons, one being its unacceptable large popular of mentally disabled males in such close proximity to five schools.”

QNS reported that the Ozone Park shelter is part of the mayor’s “Turning the Tide on Homelessness in New York City” plan. Under this plan, the DHS said that they do not take part in deciding where the shelters are built, and the decision is left to nonprofit service providers and property owners.

While insisting that they were not acting out of NIMBYism, many others who spoke out about the shelter plan said that the community would rather see the shelter in another location. Esposito suggested that the shelter be built in a more secure and less densely populated area like the abandoned Travel Lodge Hotel outside of JFK Airport.

DHS informed Ulrich and Board 9 on June 4 that plans for a shelter would be moving forward.

More from Around New York