By Dylan Campbell
Glendale and Middle Village residents are raising money to block a potential homeless shelter for the city’s poorest residents — even before the city has issued an official proposal.
A group of residents calling themselves the Glendale Middle Village Coalition has raised more than $8,500 through a GoFundMe page in a mission they say is not aimed at opposing homeless people but is designed to denounce Mayor Bill de Blasio’s strategy for housing the homeless.
“People have to understand it’s not about a homeless shelter, it’s about the size of the shelter and the location of the shelter,” said Kathy Masi, a resident who has led the fight. “We’re a community that has done faith-based help always, forever. We raised our children to volunteer in them. So this is totally against what we believe in. Now we believe in helping the homeless. There are ways to do it. Not warehousing 200 men … amidst 3 elementary schools.”
On Wednesday, Aug. 15, 59,507 — including nearly 22,000 children — stayed in a New York City homeless shelter. Community District 5, which includes Glendale and Middle Village, does not have a shelter aside from one commercial hotel that contracts with the Department of Homeless Services.
DHS initially proposed building a shelter in a vacant warehouse in Glendale, but backed off the plan after facing backlash from the community. Last month, City Council Member Robert Holden confirmed rumors that the city is eyeing 78-16 Cooper Avenue — again.
Holden confirmed reports of activity at the building in a July 27 statement.
“After sending numerous inquiries to various Department of Housing officials over a 24-hour period, and speaking with [DHS] Commissioner Steven Banks, these reports have validity, and I am extremely concerned,” he said.
Homelessness in the city has been increasing for years. In 2017, the mayor said he would build 90 shelters across the city over 5 years and phase out the use of hotels for sheltering the city’s homeless as part of his strategy to tackle the crisis. According to DHS, this new borough-based shelter system would save the city $100 million per year by cutting out the hotel costs and giving homeless individuals the chance to stay in their communities and in touch with their networks.
New York City has opened only half of the 20 shelters that de Blasio set as a target for 2017, the New York Times reported. The Glendale shelter, if approved, would move the city closer to fulfilling its goal.
In order to build a new shelter, not-for-profits approach DHS with a proposal that the city then evaluates. If the city approves the shelter, it notifies the community. Thus DHS does not select the locations. They approve them.
“We provide notification to communities when a viable proposal from a not-for-profit service provider has been fully evaluated—and communities will be the first to know as locations are identified for use as shelter,” a DHS spokesperson said. According to the city regulations, they cannot discuss proposals that are still in the procurement process.
DHS said no final determinations have been made regarding a site at 78-16 Cooper Avenue, but Holden’s statement has energized some residents.
Dozens of people have been spreading the word about the potential shelter plan by handing out fliers, sharing on social media and plugging the GoFundMe page to pay for the expenses to fight the shelter including “legal fees for a lawyer” and “buses for trips to protests.”
This is not the first time Queens residents have challenged a shelter proposal.
In 2014, Elmhurst residents protested before the Pan American Hotel was converted for shelter use. Earlier this month an Ozone Park resident began a hunger strike to protest shelter for a 113 mentally ill homeless men. Long Island City residents protested several times after the proposal of a third homeless shelter in the area. And Maspeth residents have also protested the construction of a permanent shelter in their community as well.
There are more than 8,100 homeless New Yorkers from Queens in shelters citywide and approximately 9,900 homeless New Yorkers sheltered in Queens, according to DHS. About 46 percent of the people sheltered in Queens are stuck in commercial hotels, which the mayor has committed to phasing out completely.
Without these hotels, Queens could house just 5,300 homeless people.
According to DHS, there are 287 individuals from Community District 5 in shelters across the city, but the community only shelters 104 people, all in a hotel. When the city phases out the use of hotels, there will be zero shelter capacity in the community.
Masi and others rallying against it say the proposed shelter is not the right place or even the right way to tackle the city’s homelessness problem.
“All they can do is roam the streets, and that’s not helping them,” said Masi. “It’s a dump and run. It’s dump and abandon.”
“The system is broken and throwing up more of these warehouse shelters is not going to fix it,” she said.
Masi said she thinks more faith-based groups should take in homeless people. There would need to be a lot of church basements to provide a place to stay for roughly 60,000 homeless people, including more than 20,000 children.
Several residents say they oppose the idea of placing a shelter near schools and far from subway stations.
“Find another place where there isn’t a school where there isn’t a gymnastic building that works with hundreds of kids a pizzeria where kids hang out after school, I mean,” added resident John Schad.
Other people said the space could be better used for the community.
“Did none of the bigwigs actually canvas the surrounding area to see who and what will be impacted with this inane idea,” said Arlene LoMastro.* “The city needs to figure out how to fix the problem not enable it. Our community needs a new high school, a new larger police precinct, even services for veterans. But they want to ship 200 homeless men into an area where they will not have access to services.”
“They should be providing them with the assistance to get back on their feet instead,” she continued. “It is disgusting how these organizations work.”
But not everyone agrees that the shelter will doom the community. Some took to social media to call out the irony of raising money to fight a shelter for the city’s poorest people.
“That’s because in nearly every circumstance, communities dig in and fight instead of taking the time and effort to work with the City and homeless families to make it work,” one commenter wrote on the GoFundMe page. “Why not take this $7k that you’ve raise and try switching up your strategy? Has that possibility been explored, or is this purely an anti-homeless person initiative?”
“Raising money to fight *against* poor NYers who have no money to afford housing?! The disgust with which my Queens neighbors oppose helping poor (often black & brown) people & families saddens me (but I see it all the time & can’t say it surprises me),” another woman wrote on Twitter.
Advocates say the shelter would be a positive development for homeless individuals and would not affect the safety of the community.
Giselle Routhier, policy director at the Coalition for the Homeless, said there are several reasons why local shelters are important — though they are no substitute for stable, permanent housing.
Local shelters minimize displacement, keep people in the neighborhoods they know, preserve their connections and accommodate families fleeing crimes like domestic violence who cannot risk staying in their neighborhood, she said.
She said the city has a legal obligation to provide shelter, “but, perhaps more importantly, it has a moral obligation to do so. Without the provision of emergency shelter, there would be far more individuals and families on our streets.”
Routhier says the fear of crime is unwarranted.
“There is no documented negative impact of shelters on a surrounding neighborhood,” she said in an email. “Most opposition is fueled by negative and erroneous stereotypes about who homeless people are. In NYC, the vast majority of people who are homeless are families and most New Yorkers become homeless for the simple fact of not being able to afford the rent.”
*A previous version of this story misidentified the source of this quote.
A vacant factory at 78-16 Cooper Avenue in Glendale is the potential site of a new homeless shelter. // Eagle photo by David Brand