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Photo via Google Maps
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The former Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church in Ozone Park.

Updated on June 13 at 2:00 p.m.

A new homeless shelter is coming to Ozone Park as part of Mayor Bill De Blasio’s “Turning the Tide on Homelessness in New York City” plan, and as the community received the news last week, it became clear that many questions remain unanswered.

The Department of Homeless Services (DHS) notified Councilman Eric Ulrich and Community Board 9 on June 4 that it was moving forward with plans to open a “traditional shelter” at the former site of the Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church on 101st Avenue and 86th Street by this coming winter.

Despite DHS reaching out to community boards and elected officials earlier this year to welcome their input on possible locations for new shelters, Board 9 and Ulrich’s office both confirmed that they had no prior knowledge that the church was being targeted.

In a statement released on June 6, Ulrich called out the mayor for “frantically trying to construct shelters in residential neighborhoods” and voiced his frustration about the location of the proposed shelter.

“I am deeply disturbed by the city’s decision to place a men’s shelter in the heart of Ozone Park,” Ulrich said. “The proposed location on 101st Avenue is completely inappropriate for people with mental health issues. I will be working with my colleagues in government to determine if a more suitable population can be sheltered there. Our community deserves better.”

Ulrich’s statement revealed a curious part of the proposal. When QNS requested information from DHS about the shelter, a spokesperson mentioned several times in an email that the shelter will house “approximately 113 individuals experiencing homelessness.”

Nowhere in the email did it mention that the shelter will be for men with mental illnesses. Yet, Ulrich’s office confirmed to QNS that the original communication it received from DHS said that the shelter would be for men with mental health issues.

On June 8, DHS confirmed that the shelter will indeed house “single adult men experiencing mental health challenges.”

Another point of uncertainty is the Comfort Inn in Kew Gardens that currently houses homeless men. Part of the “Turning the Tide” plan includes eliminating the use of commercial hotels and cluster sites to house the homeless, and a DHS spokesperson said “that includes closing the single commercial hotel facility in this CD (Community District).”

The spokesperson pointed out that the hotel houses “126 individuals,” which is 13 more than the Ozone Park shelter will house. DHS did not specify whether or not the individuals in the Kew Gardens hotel will simply be moved to the new Ozone Park shelter.

The agency did, however, add that it plans to “identify new shelter space within CD9 for at least an additional 150 individuals” over the next few years.

At the former church on 101st Avenue, Department of Buildings records show that the property is slated for construction of a second story that will double the building’s square footage.

Yet, the plan raised another question when the project description noted the building will become a nonprofit institution “without sleeping accommodations.”

When asked to clarify how the building could serve as a shelter without sleeping accommodations, the DHS spokesperson said, “we’re confident that this matter will be resolved in short order, with the final plan for the building reflecting the intended use: ‘nonprofit institution with sleeping accommodations.'”

Under the “Turning the Tide” plan, DHS noted several times that it does not play any role in deciding where the new shelters will be built. Instead, it is up to the nonprofit service providers to identify locations and come to an agreement with the property owner to operate a shelter there, then present that plan to the city for approval.

In this case, Lantern Community Services will be operating the Ozone Park shelter. Lantern has not returned a request for comment on why this location was chosen.

Lantern will be providing on- and off-site resources to help the individuals being housed at the shelter and it will also provide security measures for the building, according to DHS. There will be a minimum of four security officers per shift, 28 security cameras inside and outside the building and a 24-hour open line for the community to call with concerns.

The owner of the property, according to DOB records, is a real estate development company called Liberty One Group. While the city reiterates that it has no involvement in site selection under the mayor’s new plan, DOB records also show that Liberty One Group owns four of the 20 shelter sites identified under the “Turning the Tide” plan so far.

One of those sites, on Jerome Avenue in the Bronx, was touted by DHS in its request for community input earlier this year, and in email correspondence for this story, as its example of a “productive, collaborative process with community members” for identifying a shelter site.

DOB records also show that Liberty One Group purchased the church in September of 2017. To some observers, this could mean that plans for the shelter were set in motion up to nine months before the community was notified.

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AG June 11, 2018 / 05:04PM
I don't see how this shelter "more sense" - it's not near schools that men need... it's near kids. I don't blame the community for not wanting this. 100 grown men some with mental illness do not belong in community settings. They need treatment centers and job training. Free housing is not the solution to the homeless issue.
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Gina Santonas June 11, 2018 / 11:33AM
This shelter makes more sense than most of the others. At least it is in an area with schools and other neighborhood options. Everyone needs to share their weight. Unlike the ones the Mayor is shoving into hotels in Blissville where more homeless will be living her than residents. Where they will be in 10 x 12 rooms for $4500 a month. Where there is no kitchens or facilities. Where there is nothing to do because it is mainly industrial. where all three hotels are now homeless shelters...
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