The intersection of 86th Street and 101st Avenue in Ozone Park was filled on a rainy Wednesday night, Sept. 12, with more than 100 residents who gathered to protest a proposed homeless shelter that will house 113 men suffering from mental illness.
Their efforts, as it turns out, might actually prove successful, as the protest’s organizer, Sam Esposito, announced to the crowd that an elected city official will meet with the Ozone Park Residents Block Association (OPRBA) on Sept. 25 at 11 a.m. to discuss the future of the proposed shelter. A follow-up meeting will be held with the community that same evening at the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church at 7 p.m. to provide a recap of the meeting.
The official’s name has not been released out of fear of possible sabotage, according to Esposito, the lifelong Ozone Park resident and OPRBA president who has been the driving force behind protests and outcry.
“It is possible but we are not there yet,” said Esposito about the possibility of a stop being placed on the proposed shelter.
Ozone Park residents have been demonstrating against the proposed shelter since early June, when its creation was announced as part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “Turning the Tide on Homelessness in New York City” plan. Unless deterred, over 100 homeless men will be housed in a shelter at the former site of Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church, which is surrounded by five schools.
“If they get away with this, I don’t know if it is going to be a woman getting raped or child getting abducted, but we are going to have a problem here,” Esposito said. “[The Department of Homeless Services] didn’t come to Community Board 9. They didn’t come to the politicians,” Esposito said. “They just said, ‘You are getting a shelter. Have a nice day.’”
Esposito has gone to dramatic lengths to prove his point that the community is not equipped to host such a sizable number of mentally ill men. He camped out at the site of the proposed homeless shelter, handed out fliers to educate residents, decorated four parked cars with fliers around the site and collected signatures in opposition of the shelter. He even went on a hunger strike for 15 days that began on Aug. 5.
The hunger strike ended earlier than anticipated after Esposito suffered a blood pressure spike and had to be hospitalized; he had lost 25 pounds during his fast.
The community fear about the possible influx of mentally ill men has to do with the number of schools and elderly in the area — two groups of people that according to 62-year-old Ozone Park resident, Angela Nocrino, would potentially be victimized.
According to Nocrino, older residents have already started putting bars on their windows in preparation for the shelter. She fears that more will plan to build higher fences and that once the will even be reluctant to go outside.
“They are already afraid,” Nocrino said.