Queens lawmakers call on mayor to prevent opening of men’s shelter in Briarwood

Residents held a protest on Jan. 4 outside of the proposed site of the shelter at 138-50 Queens Blvd. (Courtesy of James Gennaro)

Two Queens lawmakers are calling on Mayor Bill de Blasio to abandon the city’s plans to place a 175-bed men’s “barracks-type” shelter in Briarwood in 2022 that has received pushback from residents in the community. 

Councilman James Gennaro and Senator Leroy Comrie sent a letter to de Blasio slamming the proposed site at 138-50 Queens Blvd., citing a host of reasons ranging from its close proximity to a school and children’s playground to its economic impact on local business owners and homeowners. 

“This is a very different shelter plan than the existing Briarwood shelter for families, which has housed the homeless for many years without incident under the strict and watchful eyes of the service provider, the Salvation Army,” Gennaro and Comrie said in the letter. “It is clear that Briarwood is not opposed to homeless shelters and that this community is already doing its part in ‘Turning the Tide’ on homelessness — but the proposed Queens Boulevard location is entirely inappropriate.” 

In January, Gennaro rallied alongside residents outside of the proposed site saying the shelter will effectively “kill the potential of new development and vaporize untold millions in commercial and residential property values.”

An online petition was also launched to stop the homeless shelter. 

According to DHS, the Briarwood location will offer those individuals the opportunity to be sheltered in their home borough, closer to their support networks, including schools, jobs, health care, family, social services and communities they call home. 

Westhab, a housing and social services provider, will supply those resources to the shelter, where 30 to 40 percent of the residents would be mentally ill and/or drug users. They will have the option of utilizing those services. It’s an initiative under Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “Turning the Tide on Homelessness” plan to end the use of stop-gap measures like cluster sites and commercial hotel facilities citywide. 

In a statement to QNS, DHS said their plan for transforming the city’s shelter system is “committed to ensuring that, over time, shelters are distributed equitably to meet the need in all five boroughs, including in communities like this, that do not have any DHS shelter of this kind (serving single adult New Yorkers).”

“This borough-based shelter and our borough-based approach are focused on ensuring that these lifeline services are equitably distributed across all five boroughs so we can give our neighbors experiencing homelessness the chance to stabilize their lives closer to the communities they last called home,” a DHS spokesperson said.

According to Gennaro and Comrie, the proposed site for the Briarwood men’s shelter is across the street from the Hoover-Manton children’s playground, Archbishop Molloy High School and the Briarwood Public Library.

Citing a “clear and present danger” to the youth, especially since shelter residents are not required to avail themselves of any treatment, Gennaro and Comrie said that placing “this type of shelter within such close proximity to hundreds of children is grossly irresponsible and dangerous.” 

Gennaro and Comrie also expressed concerns that the proposed location would be harmful to the individuals the city seeks to help, since it is just one block away from a liquor store and adjacent to a marijuana dispensary. 

According to the lawmakers, it will “inevitably — and unnecessarily — pose challenges to shelter residents who genuinely wish to turn their lives around.” 

Gennaro, Comrie, and the Briarwood community went to great lengths several years ago to rezone to allow for mixed-use development to attract development and investment. The elected officials said the benefits of those economic revitalization efforts “were beginning to be substantially realized, but are now paralyzed by the mere specter of this shelter.”

This represents an unconscionable taking from the homeowners who have spent a lifetime to build a home equity nest egg,” Comrie and Gennaro said. “And no matter how noble the intentions of the ‘Turning the Tide’ initiative, no facility justifies the peril to public safety and the economic devastation that would be visited on the Briarwood community by this proposed shelter.”

Gennaro and Comrie concluded their letter by requesting that de Blasio find an alternate location that would much better serve both the community as well as the shelter residents. They also criticized the city Department of Homeless Services (DHS) for the “arrogant, patronizing and dismissive” way the agency has treated elected and community leaders. 

In response, DHS said the borough of Queens and New Yorkers from the area who fall on hard times deserve access to the types of high-quality services and support that can help restabilize their lives with dignity.

“We remain committed to ensuring that Queens communities have the critical safety net resources they need to support those who may fall on hard times, right here in the community, so they can get back on their feet closer to their support networks,” a DHS spokesperson said. “Working together with neighbors and not-for-profit service provider Westhab, we’re confident that these New Yorkers will be warmly welcomed — and through collaborative support and compassion, we will make this the best experience it can be for all.”

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