Planned as a meeting for the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) to broadcast the details of the proposed Glendale homeless shelter and collect feedback, Community Board 5’s public hearing Monday night devolved into an over hour-long tussle filled with shouting matches, interruptions and an incitement of violence.
More than 1,000 residents — the vast majority of whom were there to protest the shelter — streamed into Christ the King High School Auditorium through a lobby filled with a heavy police presence and metal detectors.
After the representatives from DHS and service provider Westhab detailed the programs for the proposed shelter at 78-16 Cooper Ave., residents gave their arguments for and against the shelter in between speeches by local elected officials including Councilman Bob Holden, state Senator Joseph Addabbo and Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi.
Shelter opponents among the massive crowd fervently cheered those fighting the plan with them — and drowned out those who did not staunchly make a case against the development, including the representatives of the city agencies and event’s emcee, Community Board 5 Chair Vincent Arcuri.
The affair was so unruly that, at one point, Arcuri had to instruct police officers to eject numerous rowdy residents.
Explaining the plan
DHS representatives began the hearing by attempting to explain how the shelter fits into its “Turning the Tide on Homelessness” initiative aimed at completely eliminating the city’s use of commercial hotels and privately-owned apartments also known as “cluster sites.”
Westhab then reviewed the Glendale shelter’s status as a vocational center, which will contain 200 adult males who either have jobs or will be participating in a jobs training program aimed at placing them in area positions.
Westhab Vice President Jim Coughlin said that average length of stay in the facility is 9 months. It will also include a curfew for its clients, who are only permitted to come and go from the shelter on their to work. It is set to open in the spring of 2020.
Cheers and jeers
Nothing said by the DHS or Westhab seemed to assuage the demonstrative shelter opponents.
Mike Papa, a member of the Glendale Middle Village Coalition who was the first resident to speak out against the facility at Monday’s hearing, declared that the facility would dump sexual predators “coming straight out of prison” into the area, with its eight surrounding schools.
“I want to start by assuring everyone that this is not a done deal,” Papa said.
The next speaker, Crystal Wolfe, an author of a book on homelessness, addressed the crowd to debunk some what she deemed to be misinformation about homelessness.
“Another myth about homelessness is that property values decrease,” she said to overpowering boos from the audience.
Both the residents defending and attacking the shelter did have one thing in common: They both heaped vitriol at Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s response to the homelessness crisis in New York City.
Those against the shelter issued complaints that they aren’t being listened to and declared their distrust of Department of Homelessness.
“The arrogance of imposing solutions on people from the top down — this is not America,” said Maspeth resident Jerry Drake.
Meanwhile, a contingent of progressive-minded residents who came to argue for the shelter made the case that the root of homelessness is a failure to truly address New York’s housing crisis.
“You should all be working together to fight city hall to build housing for our city. I don’t see why anyone would be against building housing for those who need it,” said Raquel Namuche, an organizer with the Ridgewood Tenants Union.
Warm response for cold remark
The tension between the city officials and shelter opponents reached its peak when the next speaker opposing the shelter took an ugly, violent turn.
“I do not care about the homeless. I feel sorry but I don’t want them in my backyard,” the woman said. “I hope someone is going to burn that place down.”
The crowd erupted into cheers.
here's a clip of a woman at the CB5 mtg who urged for the shelter to be burned down, to cheers. pic.twitter.com/O80sYMknL9
— Dr. Ug, Recycled Plastic Surgeon 🥞 (@cr_yellowaxe) October 8, 2019
At this point, DHS Assistant Commissioner Matthew Borden stopped the woman’s speech.
“I’m sorry but I can’t abide that. You can’t threaten to bomb a shelter where there are people living. I refuse to accept that in New York City,” he said.
Arcuri took the moment to rebuke Borden for interrupting the resident, saying that he needed to pay her respect.
‘Making money off the homeless’
Of the politicians who attended, Addabbo and Holden encouraged the residents in their fight against the shelter. Holden accused the city of “making money off of the homeless” and repeated his demand for a school at the Cooper Avenue site.
Addabbo opposed the shelter on the principle of resisting large shelters in general, citing concerns over infrastructure, transportation and public safety.
Hevesi, who was the only politician present who did not staunchly oppose the shelter, saved his criticism for residents who he accused of dehumanizing the homeless and for city and state government.
“For those of you who are yelling saying that they are all criminals, saying they are all sexual predators, saying they are all horrible people as opposed to human beings who lost their apartments, shame on you,” he said.
Board 5 District Manager Gary Giordano closed out the meeting by clarifying the CB 5’s Committee on Homeless will devise a recommendation on the development before the board votes on the matter. He said that they hope to have this ready the board’s next meeting on Oct. 16.
Pointing fingers over rowdiness
Asked what he thought of the interruptions after the meeting, Arcuri blamed the meeting’s unruliness on the attendees associated with the Ridgewood Tenants Union, who he accused of being “plantees.”
“Without the ones who were planted, it would have gone much better,” said Arcuri, referring to the group as “hipsters from Bushwick.”
Glendale resident Dorie Figliola, who opposes the shelter, didn’t share Arcuri’s view about the root of the pandemonium. She came away wanting to distance herself from other people who spoke against the shelter at the hearing.
“Many of us do not want a shelter but we are not hateful people. And I was not happy with the display,” said Figiola.