Queens District Attorney candidates slam mayor over College Point shelter plan at neighborhood debate

Photo credit: Cathleen Shannon

Continuing on their campaign trail before the June 25 Democratic primary, Queens District Attorney candidates shared their positions on the controversial College Point homeless shelter.

Five of the seven candidates participated in a Q&A-style forum at the May 29 College Point Civic and Taxpayer’s Association meeting. Borough President Melinda Katz and public defender Tiffany Cabán were absent from the debate.

Though opening and managing homeless shelters is not in the purview of a district attorney, attendees pressed the candidates on their views, including what they thought about Mayor de Blasio’s “Turning the Tide on Homelessness” plan. The neighborhood has been fighting for months against the city’s plan to open a shelter for up to 200 men on 20th Avenue.

“Even though de Blasio says it’s a state of emergency, who’s making the money?” asked candidate Betty Lugo. “There are other places in New York State that you can build homeless shelters — cheaper property, cheaper taxes and you don’t have to bring people back into the community.”

Lugo added that while the city had to find solutions for the growing homeless population, “you don’t have to do it in somebody’s backyard.”

“What are they gonna do to counteract potential effects that homeless shelters are gonna add to this community? That’s what you’re gonna look at, that’s what your lawyer’s gonna look at — the disparity that is going to happen in the community,” said Lugo.

Jose Nieves highlighted the importance of community input when it comes to placing homeless shelters in communities.

“My philosophy as district attorney is to make the community a part of every step of the process. We have to incorporate the community’s concerns. We have to incorporate the community’s perspective on what’s important in their community, to their family’s lives.”

Nieves added that the city shouldn’t put recently incarcerated individuals in shelters or “halfway houses”. Instead, he said that prisons should prepare them for the transition and connect them to services while they are still incarcerated.

Councilman Rory Lancman said that while the mayor is out on the presidential campaign trail, “the homeless population is higher than ever.”

College Point resident Jennifer Shannon shared that the 200 men who are transitioning from prison will not be forced to use the services that Westhab provides.

“We are left trying to struggle [with] the effects of this mayor not doing his basic, fundamental job as mayor,” Lancman said. “It’s inappropriate and wrong and emblematic of everything that’s wrong with the de Blasio administration that is putting people in communities who are in need of services, in need of supervision and they’re not giving those services and the supervision.

Another candidate, Mina Malik, said that New York would benefit from a system like the one in place at the Primo Center for Women and Children in Chicago, for which she is an executive board member.

“I think it’s incumbent upon the city to make sure that when we have people reentering society from jail or from prison, we have to have services set up for them, treatment set up for them and reentry set up for them,” Malik said.

She said that it is the city’s responsibility to have these services set up so that homeless individuals “have a pathway to success” and added that the Primo Center model is one that works.

Former Supreme Court Justice Gregory Lasak said that de Blasio was “in denial” about the homeless crisis in the beginning of his administration. During the start of the mayor’s first term, Lasak said he noticed a “proliferation of hotels” that were built and eventually transformed into shelters.

Lasak added that it’s imperative for the city to get to the root of the homelessness problem and “deal with it.”

“If you don’t deal with the problem like the United States government has not dealt with the immigration issues the last 40 years, now look at it,” Lasak said. “The same thing is happening with the homeless.”

The Queens District Attorney primary is on Tuesday, June 25.

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