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Photo by Ryan Kelley/QNS
Hundreds of Ozone Park residents gathered for a town hall meeting on July 19 to contest a homeless shelter being built in the neighborhood.

Residents of Ozone Park are continuing their fight against an impending homeless shelter with a rally in front of the location this week.

According to an announcement on Facebook from Sam Esposito and the Ozone Park Residents Block Association (OPRBA), the rally will take place on Wednesday, Sept. 12 at 7 p.m. in front of the shelter being built at 85-15 101st Ave.

A large portion of the local population has shown its opposition to the shelter for 113 mentally ill men ever since the Department of Homeless Services announced the plan in June, and Esposito himself launched a hunger strike in front of the building that lasted for two weeks.

“We are asking the city to take notice and pay attention to our community, our neighborhood and our safety,” Esposito wrote in the Facebook post. “We are asking everyone, especially women and children and seniors to come and support our efforts to protest and to please rethink their positions.”

At the time when he ended his hunger strike, Esposito said he had received calls from “very influential elected officials” who expressed interest in helping the community in its fight, and he added that he confirmed a meeting with a “major public official.”

When reached over the phone on Sept. 10, Esposito told QNS that the situation hasn’t changed, and his meeting with the public official — whom he wishes to keep anonymous until after the meeting — is scheduled for Sept. 25.

The rally is simply being done “to show force,” and its timing is a matter of logistics, Esposito said. With children back in school and less families on vacation, there will presumably be more people that are able to attend, he added.

Meanwhile, the retired NYPD officer turned community activist said he just finished walking through every block of the neighborhood to count the apartments and send out a mass mailing to invite people to the OPRBA, as well as assess the potential impact of the shelter on the entire community, Esposito said. In addition, the first hearing for the lawsuit filed by the residents of Ozone Park against the city will take place on Sept. 17.

While Esposito reiterated that he and the OPRBA are opposed to the specifics of this shelter and not homeless people in general, he reflected on his days as a cop to explain his view on the problems with the shelter system.

When we had to take people off the street, they begged us to not take them to a shelter,” Esposito said.

Local lawmakers, meanwhile, are also doubling down on their opposition to this shelter and others in the area. On Sept. 10, Senator Joseph Addabbo released a statement pointing out that the children being back in school now makes it even more clear why the community does not think this shelter will be safe.

“Our children’s safety is our utmost concern and sending them to school where homeless men — especially mentally ill men — are being housed is very concerning,” Addabbo said. “I understand that my constituents are aware of the need to assist the homeless, but building large population shelters in such close proximity to several community schools is not the right answer.”

Addabbo added that, as a father of two young daughters in the school system, he can relate to these parents’ concerns. The senator has personally spoken to Mayor Bill de Blasio about the Ozone Park shelter and the possible shelter in Glendale, and said he intends to follow up on those conversations in the coming weeks.

 

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