Dozens gathered at the site of a proposed homeless shelter in College Point on Monday for a protest in the heart of a neighborhood that has been plagued with shelter rumors in recent years.
The rally came less than a week after Councilman Paul Vallone confirmed with the mayor’s administration that a developer had submitted a proposal to the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) for the building located at 127-03 20th Ave.
Vallone was joined by fellow elected officials, community leaders and disgruntled residents at the rally on Monday, Oct. 29. Protesters voiced concerns about their quality of life, safety and overcrowding if plans for the shelter are approved.
Rumors of the shelter first arose at the Oct. 24 College Point Civic and Taxpayers Association meeting and were confirmed a day later by Councilman Vallone. The councilman named David Levitan, co-owner of real estate company Liberty One Group, as the owner of the building. Levitan acquired the property in March 2018 and subsequently submitted the proposal as part of DHS’ open request for proposal (RFP).
Though the proposal has been submitted, Mayor de Blasio has not yet made a decision about whether or not the site will become a shelter.
“There is no public transportation. There is no train. There [are] no services. It is overcrowded and we have had enough,” Vallone said. The councilman added that the DHS is “acting with a complete lack of community involvement” by not seeking residents’ input.
“What’s worse, the city’s policy for siting shelters allows greedy developers to profit from the homelessness crisis while displaying [a] wanton disregard for the effect on our community,” said Vallone.
But Vallone has said that College Point and its residents have not adopted a “not in my backyard” or “NIMBY” mindset, rather, the neighborhood has reached its capacity for municipal organizations. Many at the rally, including Assemblyman Dan Rosenthal, cited the overcrowding from an influx of city agencies that have been built in the area.
“Over the past few years, College Point has seen so much development,” said Rosenthal. “Just look around and look how crowded it is here. This is not the place. Not only that, College Point already has its fair share of municipal developments. We have a police academy, a waste transfer center, a large postal facility and many other things. This is not the place.”
Others cited safety issues that would arise if a homeless shelter were to be established at the proposed location. According to Vallone, the building is located just blocks away from three public schools — P.S. 29, P.S. 129, the newly opened M.S. 379 — and St. Agnes Academic High School.
“We’re upset too because we were not notified,” said Christine Coniglio, the PTA president of M.S. 379. “We have a brand-new middle school with sixth-graders. There [are] 160 students that take the buses here, get off and commute right here on this corner. So having a homeless shelter where our children are 11 years old, who will be commuting, is a little concerning.”
Protesters held signs bearing the words, “say no to drugs and crime in College Point” and “homeless hurt our businesses” calling attention to other issues they believed homeless residents would bring to the area.
Local business owner Mario Turriago also mentioned how the homeless population would negatively impact businesses in the neighborhood.
“Homeless people do affect businesses because they loiter outside. They stand all around. They panhandle. They ask for money and people get turned off from going into the stores,” said Mario Turriago, the owner of a locksmith business in the neighborhood.
Residents like College Point Civic and Taxpayers Association Treasurer Brock Weiner have said that the city should be allocating their resources toward improving the lives of homeless individuals instead of just housing them in shelters.
“The city should be helping the homeless get back on their feet and get jobs if they’re capable of it,” said Weiner. “The city has the resources to do that. Instead, they put them in shelters and basically let them wander around and do nothing. There’s a reason it’s getting worse and worse and not getting better. There are a lot of agencies that want to help the homeless, but the city doesn’t seem to organize them properly, otherwise, we wouldn’t have a growing homeless population like we do.”