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THE COURIER/Photo by Angela Matua
Councilman Ruben Wills announced that the city will be removing 52 sex offenders from Skyway Men's Shelter in South Ozone Park.

Councilman Ruben Wills announced Tuesday that the 52 registered sex offenders currently housed at Skyway Men’s Shelter in South Ozone Park will be removed by the city.

The shelter, located at 132-30 South Conduit Ave., two blocks away from P.S./M.S. 124, has been a constant source of concern for community members, especially families and staff at the school. They have been working with Wills since 2011, when the family shelter was converted to a men’s shelter, to make sure that Level 2 and 3 sex offenders would be removed.

“We want to announce today that we have entered into another round of lobbying the state and the city [Department of Homeless Services],” Wills said. “Today we want to announce that as of yesterday the Department of Homeless Services has announced that this is not a compliant shelter and they will be removing the sexual offenders in an expedited basis out of this shelter.”

According to PTA President Eileen Lamanna, children living in Skyway attended P.S./M.S. 124. But after one weekend in February 2011, the families were moved to shelters throughout the city and men were shuttled in. The Department of Homeless Services (DHS) did not inform any public officials or community members that the shelter would be converted into a men’s shelter, according to Lamanna.

Lamanna said parents attended PTA meetings to complain about the shelter and express concern about groups of men loitering by the park connected to the school.

“It’s a desolate area,” Lamanna said. “Why are you putting them here? It’s like you’re tempting them.”

Wills previously stated the shelter was not the mandated 1,000 feet away from the school, though DHS argued that it was. The DHS reportedly informed Wills that the distance from the school’s door to the shelter’s door is 1,056 feet.

Wills’ office conducted their own survey last week and found that the distance between the shelter and the real property boundary line at 130th Street and South Conduit Avenue was less than 930 feet.

According to state penal law, school grounds are defined as “…any area accessible to the public located within one thousand feet of the real property boundary line comprising any such school,” including sidewalks and streets. The DHS measured the distance from the shelter’s door to the school’s door and excluded the sidewalk and the school’s park, it was noted.

Wills is requesting that Comptroller Scott Stringer audit the system that DHS is using to calculate the distance of a shelter from a school to determine if it is compliant with state residency restrictions.

“The city is legally and morally obligated to provide shelter to anyone who requests it,” a DHS spokesperson said. “The city ensures those listed on the sex offender registry are sheltered at sites that meet New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision guidelines. Originally, this site met the requirement to be 1,000 feet from a school, but yesterday DHS was notified the facility no longer meets this geographic requirement. We are working to transfer those residents to sites that are compliant.”

Though Lamanna said she is thankful and relieved that the city has taken action, she is still weary, especially after the city planned to open a juvenile detention center in the area.

“Why doesn’t anybody care about this community?” Lamanna said. “It’s just like a constant battle.”

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