Op-Ed: The solution to the homeless shelter controversy is housing and working together to demand it

Photo: Max Parrott/QNS


Glendale residents have been organizing since 2013 to block the construction of a homeless shelter at 78-16 Cooper Ave.

The coalition that formed — led in part by Council member Robert Holden — says that the homeless should not be warehoused, but residents cite concerns of drug addicts and sex offenders ending up in the shelter, placing their safety at risk but also lowering their property values.

Sadly, the marginalization of the homeless is condoned by our elected officials when conversations of the Cooper Avenue shelter take place. Instead of picking on our community’s most vulnerable populations, we need to be working together to fight for a Homes Guarantee so that no New Yorker has to suffer the indignity and injustice of being unhoused. It’s necessary for us to stand with our homeless neighbors whose voices are always left out of these conversations.

The stereotyping of the homeless often guides the zealous organizing to block the shelter and stands in the way of the policy solutions we need to fight for housing for all. As the shelters swell with people without homes, we need policies that offer systemic solutions.

We all agree that our targets are Mayor de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo, who constantly give free passes to the rich while our communities languish. Our elected officials must work to pass good cause legislation, which will ensure all tenants are protected from arbitrary evictions that can lead to homelessness.

As a statewide and national proposal, the Homes Guarantee platform ensures investment in public housing and the creation of housing to eradicate homelessness, as well as offers a pathway to decommodify housing.

What that means is that housing should be a human right and not be used to enrich already wealthy developers like Avery Hall Investments, who propose building a 24-story luxury tower in our neighborhood.

Real estate speculation and luxury development only drives up displacement and homelessness but we need to shift the focus on solutions that create permanently affordable housing for all New Yorkers.

As a community, we will only be powerful if we bring our voices together to demand homes for all. We must reimagine what we think is possible to win housing justice here in our own neighborhoods, statewide and nationally. Our struggles are connected and homelessness impacts everyone.  We can solve homelessness in Glendale and Ridgewood and in our entire state if we start demanding better of ourselves and our elected officials rather than looking down on our homeless neighbors and creating a panic where there is none.

Tousif Ahsan is an organizer with the Ridgewood Tenants Union, which is a part of the Upstate-Downstate Housing Alliance, a diverse coalition of tenants, homeless people, manufactured housing residents, and advocates from across New York fighting for stronger tenant protections and an end to homelessness.