Judge issues temporary restraining order on proposed Rockaway Park men’s shelter

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Courtesy of Mike Scala

A controversial shelter for homeless shelter for single adult men that was scheduled to open next month in Rockaway Park has been stopped in its tracks Friday after a state Supreme Court justice issued a temporary restraining order halting all construction work at the facility located at 226 Beach 101st St.

Per the judge’s ruling, the facility may be secured, but no one is permitted to enter the building.

“The ruling is significant,” said Torey Schnupp, lead petitioner in the case and activist behind the group Rockaway Solutions Not Shelters. “While we want to see the male homeless population helped back to their feet, we have limitations as a peninsula that is already inundated with people in need and still recovering from Hurricane Sandy.”

Oral argument lasted about an hour at the Queens Supreme Court, where attorney Mike Scala faced off with New York City lawyers representing the Department of Homeless Services (DHS). Scala raised numerous legal issues during the hearing, including that DHS’ environmental review was improper, the shelter would constitute a residence for the mentally disabled in violation of state law and there was evidence of financial impropriety with the not-for-profit service provider.

Opposing counsel contended there was no imminent harm, claiming the shelter would not open until February — but the judge was unpersuaded by their defense.

“This win is meaningful for the Rockaway community,” Scala said. “It means we’ve established a likelihood that the city is breaking the law. It’s only the first step in the case, but it’s certainly one in the right direction. Residents have felt helpless throughout the whole process and this is a measure of vindication.”

On Friday afternoon, Scala and a group of officers from the 100th Precinct presented the court decision to workers at the converted warehouse, who were ordered to lock up and leave. “Can I get my tools?” one asked on his way out the door.

“The city needs to reevaluate its plan to move forward with more shelters and start offering real solutions, starting with in-patient mental health services and substance abuse rehabilitation,” Schnupp said. “Men in need don’t need to be placed on cots amidst the highest unemployment rate in Queens, poor public transit and 4,000 students a block away.”

The temporary restraining order remains in effect at least through Monday, Jan. 27, on which date the parties are due back in court.

“New York City is under court order to provide shelter for all homeless individuals in need and this location will be the first of its kind in this community in Queens, offering 108 individuals experiencing homelessness the opportunity to get back on their feet closer to their anchors of life,” DHS spokesman Isaac McGinn said. “We’re confident the courts will recognize our vital need for these high-quality beds, as they have for decades in these kinds of cases and remain committed to continuing our open engagement with the community as we ensure this high-quality employment shelter is integrated into the neighborhood and our clients are welcomed as neighbors.”

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