As the Department of Homeless Services moves forward with its contract to build a shelter at 78-16 Cooper Ave. in Glendale, local elected officials joined the Glendale Middle Village Coalition (GMVC) for a protest Saturday outside the proposed site to remind the city that the fight against the plan is far from over.
Hundreds of protesters, equipped with signs that depicted the mayor as an evil emperor and “shelter industrialist,” filled both sides of Cooper Avenue at the underpass between 74th and 79th Streets on Nov. 2 to the near-constant sound of cars honking their horns.
The rally’s ringleaders, Councilman Robert Holden and GMVC advocate Mike Papa, began by continuing to push for a special needs school at the site rather than the proposed shelter for 200 homeless men. But as the event wore on, the two speakers, along with conservative gadfly Curtis Sliwa, escalated their criticism of the mayor’s handling of the project into a government conspiracy.
Papa charged the mayor with misleading residents about the site and engaging in corrupt dealings in securing the contract. Sliwa claimed the mayor was acting out of contempt and disdain for the residents of Maspeth, Glendale and Middle Village. Holden’s staffer, Charlie Vavruska, shouted accusations that Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza is racist.
“There’s going to be a lawsuit. There’s going to be maybe several lawsuits. This thing stinks to high heaven,” Holden told QNS. “There needs to be an investigation. We’re contacting the feds on this. It’s actually bigger. I don’t trust the [city Department of Investigation].”
Holden and Papa went a step further to claim that de Blasio misled the public by waiting until August to give notice about their plans for the shelter, while the property’s owner, Michael Wilner, commenced construction on the site in the summer of 2018 to ready it for opening. Holden has said he was lied to by the DHS when they told him a year ago they were no longer considering the site as a homeless shelter, which was first proposed back in 2013.
Papa also suggested that the city is lying about its data on the district’s homeless population.
According to the DHS, 249 individuals from Community District 5 are in shelters across the city, but there is currently no traditional shelter space in the entire district.
“We have traditional family values. This neighborhood does in fact, as Mr. de Blasio suggested, take care of its own… We did not produce 250 single homeless men,” said Papa.
Holden was joined by state Senator Joseph Addabbo and Assemblyman Mike Miller at the rally in indicating that they support an investigation into the matter.
In their speeches, Addabbo and Miller both reserved their criticism for de Blasio’s policies.
Addabbo proposed cluster sites as the solution to the homelessness crisis — a form of housing de Blasio’s homeless plan aims to eliminate. Both lawmakers suggested that the root of the homeless problem is affordable housing, which the neighborhood needs more of.
Following speeches, the rally then turned into a march up Cooper Avenue eastbound toward The Shops at Atlas Park, though such a procession was not part of the original plan.
The event came less than a week before the city’s scheduled public hearing on the DHS contact at 9:30 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 7.
Asked what would come next, Holden suggested that this is the first of many more rallies to come.
“Next time we’re going to shut down Cooper Avenue,” he said.