‘It doesn’t fit in with the fabric of the neighborhood’: Town hall on homeless shelter in Glendale sees massive turnout

Photo: Mark Hallum/QNS

Residents of southwestern Queens continue to be polarized, yet frenzied, over the installation of homeless shelters in Glendale and Ridgewood.

The issue could not be better illustrated than with Thursday night’s town hall in Glendale hosted by Councilman Robert Holden, which stoked anger against the city’s attempts to provided shelter for 200 indigent males.

Some chatter at the town hall expressed concern that the auditorium at P.S. 119 had too many people and posed a fire hazard; more than 400 were said to be in attendance.

Holden’s opposition to the shelter echoed an argument that has taken place in nearly every neighborhood that has risen up against a planned shelter in their community, claiming that a former factory under renovation at 78-16 Cooper Ave. was out of character with the neighborhood.

“It doesn’t fit in with the fabric of the neighborhood. That’s our argument,” Holden said. “This is like four new blocks of people that won’t necessarily live in the neighborhood that have problems… We’re a compassionate neighborhood. We have soup kitchens, food pantries and smaller shelters throughout the neighborhood.”

He then read aloud a fact sheet that his office prepared outlining the proposed Glendale shelter, operated by the Westchester County-based nonprofit Westhab.

As Westhab’s first contract with the city’s Department of Homeless Services (DHS), they will provide 8 case managers and 2 social workers on staff. There will also be an in-house security staff of 40 guards and 6 supervisors, according to Holden’s office.

The single men to be housed in Glendale would be “employed or deemed employable,” as noted on the fact sheet.

The fact sheet disseminated at the Sept. 19 town hall meeting in Glendale. (Courtesy of City Councilman Robert Holden’s office)

DHS has not confirmed many of the particulars of this fact sheet apart from information QNS was given by the agency in August.

Holden was joined on the dais by state Senator Joseph Addabbo, Assemblyman Mike Miller and Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi, who took a different approach to opposing shelters.

Stopping the ‘business’ of shelters

Taking aim at Governor Andrew Cuomo and his background of being in the “business” of shelters, Hevesi claimed the system used by the city to house the homeless was corrupt in that it costs less to simply provide rental assistance to the needy.

Hevesi claimed Cuomo and his sister Matilda have profited off the venture, Help USA — which has a location on Wards Island — and that executives associated with the organization now have in turn contributed to Cuomo’s campaign.

“I understand you’re mad at the mayor, I understand you’re mad at the city and I understand you don’t want the shelter,” Hevesi said. “But I’m telling you, unless we deal with this macro issue of [Cuomo] protecting a select group of people who are making money off homelessness, who are making money off of the Glendale shelter because there’s new contracts, [homelessness will persist].”

Hevesi said he would not oppose the Glendale shelter nor would he offer support, instead advocating for a rental supplement.

Others, however, viewed opposition to the shelter as racism that criminalizes the poor.

Members of the Ridgewood Tenants Union attended the Sept. 19 town hall, issuing a statement beforehand that called for more protections for renters and tweeting their views of the observations around them.

“While we support the two shelter openings in Ridgewood and Glendale, we do not believe that shelters are the answer.  We believe that our housing crisis is, above all, the result of a moral crisis that will only be solved by housing-based, common sense solutions that are not driven by the usual anti-homeless, racist and classist sentiment that usually dominate these discussions,” an RTU statement read. “Anti-shelter advocates and organizers like Councilmember Bob Holden often dehumanize and criminalize the homeless but we stand firm in our commitment to defend all of our neighbors against prejudice and hate.”

A different stance in Ridgewood

DHS announced in August it would not only install the shelter on Cooper Avenue, but would add another on Summerfield Street in Ridgewood, which will have to be built from the ground-up.

Standing in stark contrast to the movement in Glendale, City Councilman Antonio Reynoso — whose district includes the Summerfield Street site — made a statement at the Sept. 18 Community Board 5 meeting which supported the Ridgewood shelter and efforts to provide other services to the homeless.

“I am 100 percent in support of the homeless shelter that will be going up in Ridgewood. It’ll be 200 members in that homeless shelter – it would be women and children,” Reynoso said. “I believe that we have a responsibility as a community, as a people, to help the neediest … I’m doing everything I can to make sure the transition is a positive for the families that are coming into the community.”

Reynoso said he would address community concerns, but would not play on negative stereotypes about the homeless or what he called scare tactics. Though he has not yet come to a decision on whether or not he will hold his own town hall, Reynoso said he wanted to open a public forum for concerned residents.

During that same Board 5 meeting, Holden called for the community to show up in force and advocated for residents to join the 104th Precinct Civilian Observation Patrol (104COP), implying that there will be an elevated level of danger to the community after the shelter becomes a reality.

A flyer handed out at the Wednesday CB5 meeting called for more civilian patrol officers accompanied by a photo a the proposed Glendale homeless shelter.

DHS did not return multiple requests for comment before press time.

Board 5 will hold a public hearing on the Glendale shelter on Oct. 7 at Christ the King High School.

This story was updated on Sept. 20 at 7:10 p.m. with additional information from Holden’s office.