Scores of College Point residents made the trip to City Hall on Sunday to call attention to a homeless shelter that they claim is not suitable for their neighborhood, as many other communities across Queens have challenged.
The rest of the borough has resisted placement of shelters similar to the one slated at 127-03 20th Ave. to no avail. But opposition leader Jennifer Shannon said that College Point’s lack of public transportation options and scarcity of medical services set the neighborhood’s complaints apart, especially as it is already home to about 80,000 people and multiple schools.
“[College Point] really is on the most northern tip of Queens, and there really is nothing there. To get to any service, it’s 45 minutes,” Shannon said, referring to the three to five unreliable bus routes available. “I’m not saying that any other community shouldn’t have protested, be we really have nothing there.”
One concern Shannon voiced was that the residents at the facility will not be allowed to stay in the building during the day and that medical assistance is sparse.
The city Department of Homeless Services spokesman Isaac McGinn, however, denied this claim, explaining this is a misconception that arose from the fact that residents are sent into common areas of the facility to engage in job development and other programs while sleeping quarters are cleaned by staff.
Shannon admitted that DHS had not said this is their policy, but that they had been in contact with other communities who claimed homeless residents were turned out during the day.
“If we get sick in College Point, we have to go to Bayside, we have to go to Whitestone; we’ve got no services,” Shannon said. “No train, no precinct, no hospital, so how are they helping these men?”
But like many other homeless shelter facilities established by the city, McGinn confirmed that the College Point shelter will have medical services as well as mental health assistance provided on site.
“Our only thing is this is just a really horrible location,” Shannon said. “This is not a NIMBY thing; it’s just not safe. It’s just not safe to put 200 men transitioning – many of them, probably most of them from prison – in the middle of a community surrounded by our schools.”
Michael Deng, who also helps organize the opposition to the shelter, echoed Shannon in the claim that those opposing the College Point shelter had been villainized by those in favor, which they viewed as an unfair assessment.
“We’re talking about a very small number of people who go through homelessness versus a community of 80,000 people, 28,000 households, more than 5,000 school kids,” Deng said. “It couldn’t be a worse site. Five schools in the middle of the commercial center of College Point. We’re not against homeless; we have our own homeless we are taking care of.”
There are currently an estimated 63,000 to 70,000 homeless individuals in the city, a situation which has been treated as a crisis by Mayor Bill de Blasio. The College Point location is slated to be another addition in his Turning of the Tide on Homelessness initiative.
“The city and not-for-profit social service provider partner Westhab are opening this facility as soon as possible to give individuals experiencing homelessness from Queens the opportunity to be closer to the communities they called home as they get back on their feet,” DHS spokeswoman Arianna Fishman said. “We are ensuring the building is ready for occupancy, finalizing all required reviews, and expect to open this facility this fall after all has been completed.”
This program aims to establish shelters in communities where the individual can receive services near the communities where they originated from and called home, Fishman said.
CP Residents’ Coalition Inc. and A Better College Point, meanwhile, have launched a GoFundMe campaign to fund a legal battle against the city and has raised $2,000 of its $100,000 goal since it was launched on Dec. 30.
An earlier version of this story said Turning of the Tide aims to establish shelters in every community board, however DHS clarified that a more accurate description of the approach is to provide services close to what is considered home for individuals in need, or “anchors of life,” rather than reaching a quota for each area of the city.