‘He wants to put the bottom level of people into Rockaway’: Protestors call for DHS commissioner’s resignation

Photo: Mark Hallum/QNS

Councilman Eric Ulrich and a coalition of 40 residents from across Queens took their protest against homeless shelters in their neighborhoods to the front door of city Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Steve Banks’ house in Windsor Terrace on Monday.

The crowd echoed Ulrich’s sentiment that the de Blasio administration needs to support Section 8 and other housing subsidies to bring meaningful and long-term relief the city’s poorest, but said shelters in neighborhoods like Ozone Park, the Rockaways and College Point are not doing the homeless any favors apart from taking them off the streets.

But some views expressed veered farther off course, and they demanded Banks’ resignation as a result.

“We have a record-high homeless population in the city and the mayor is jet-setting all over the country because he wants to run for president,” Ulrich said. “[De Blasio] picked Steve Banks to run the agency that’s supposed to help homeless people and Steve Banks has not put forward a coherent homeless preventative strategy. He has not done a good job of transitioning people out of the shelter system and into permanent and stable housing. He’s doing a terrible job.”

Others carried signs that read “Protect our families before they get hurt” and “Women have the right to feel safe,” with the children of protestors joining the rally on Sherman Street in Brooklyn.

But DHS has denied claims that residents in shelters are unsupervised during the day and said those in the system check in and out of facilities during the day to go to work, attend programs in community rooms in the facility while rooms are cleaned by staff and are able to access all medical care including mental health services on-site with nonprofit providers.

The crowd called for more affordable housing instead of shelters for the estimated 63,000 to 70,000 homeless people across the city. De Blasio previously deemed the rising homeless population to be a crisis, and he launched the Turning of the Tide on Homelessness initiative to establish shelters in communities where the individual can receive services near the communities where they originated from.

“The problem under Steve Banks is getting worse it’s not getting better, so Banks has to go,” Ulrich continued. “If the city’s serious about helping homeless people and preventing more people from going into the shelter system then we’ve got to fund a real rental subside program, we’ve got to bring back Section 8 or the Advantage Program. We know that these programs work.”

Lew Simon, a Democratic district leader from Rockaway, echoed the sentiment of many when he pointed out that the proximity of shelters to schools puts children at risk and the opposed the lack of communication the administration makes with communities when deciding on placing a facility in a neighborhood. A shelter on Beach 101st Street is going to be located near seven schools, Simon said.

“I believe in going to the source. I’m known for going to the homes of these people. We needed to do this to send him a message. He’s been lying to us [about] what he was going to do. He hasn’t done a thing outside of destroy neighborhoods. He wants to put the bottom level of people into Rockaway, we don’t want that,” Simon said. “I’m willing to sit here all night and wait to meet with him.”

Complaints of shelter proximity to schools has been a common thread for those opposing the shelter slated for College Point at 127-03 20th Ave. which has seen protests from outspoken residents such as Jennifer Shannon and real estate broker Michael Deng who took to City Hall with over 300 fellow protestors in January.

In August, community leader Sam Esposito launched a hunger strike against a shelter in Ozone Park that ended in a trip to the hospital claiming the all-male residents posed a threat to school children in the area.

De Blasio, on NY1’s “Inside City Hall with Errol Louis” on Monday, said that while the administration may be willing to negotiate with communities to find better locations within their area, his is not willing to budge on housing people near where they may have family or connections and slammed Ulrich for use of the term “poverty pimps” in a CBS interview to describe shelter service providers and Banks.

“Every neighborhood, every community board that sends people into the shelter system should have as close as possible to a representative amount of shelter in that area. And that’s what we’re going to do one way or another,” de Blasio said. “Well, he should be ashamed of himself for saying that. It is a very nasty, divisive phrase that denigrates the work of organizations that are trying to help people. I mean, one of the leading providers of shelter is Catholic Charities. Is he accusing them with that phrase? … [Homeless individuals] are folks who have jobs right now and just the cost of living got too high or they, for whatever reason, couldn’t afford the rent or in some cases obviously still folks with mental health and substance issues – but mostly it’s working people.”

The mayor claimed that the long-game in shelter programs is to help those in shelter finally find affordable housing.