By Paul Vallone
Special to the Eagle
Sometimes the gravest mistakes are made with the best of intentions. There is no doubt that the level of homelessness in New York City has reached crisis levels not seen since the Great Depression.
In these times of economic prosperity, we must question how we got here and who is to blame. One thing that is absolutely certain, the communities that are being deliberately targeted with proposed homeless shelters did not create the crisis. The administration’s efforts to address our most vulnerable populations have too often resulted in communities being silenced, pitted against each other and left to fend for themselves.
A few months ago, my office and all of College Point was blindsided with news that a homeless shelter was targeted for 127-03 20th Avenue, without warning, notice nor community input of any kind. A system is clearly broken when the community and its elected officials are purposely left out of the process.
Serious concerns and organized rallies against this location have since fallen on deaf ears, an all too familiar characteristic of the administration’s response to communities’ objections.
Outcries are often brushed off as another example of “not in my backyard” but looking deeper it becomes clear that this is not always the case.
If one wanted to find the worst possible location for a homeless shelter then look no further than this proposed site. College Point has a complete lack of public transportation options, medical facilities, resources and infrastructure for a shelter to effectively support the proposed two hundred incoming transient men and guide them out of homelessness.
Shouldn’t this be the goal in the first place?
This location is also nestled between three elementary schools, three thousand students, an all-girl high school and mom-and-pop store fronts that have survived for generations. The men targeted for this site do not live in or around College Point and will find there are no basic services to assist them.
Furthermore, College Point already has more than its fair share of municipal facilities that have been dumped here with almost no consideration for the community. It is burdened with the new NYPD Police Academy, a Department of Sanitation (DSNY) Garage, a DSNY Marine Waste Transfer Station, an MTA Bus Garage and an NYPD Tow and Retrieval Vehicle Station.
It may be a tough pill for the administration to swallow, but choosing locations such as this one unite not just a community, but the entire city, against this type of solution. This men’s shelter will disadvantage not just those staying there, but the residents of College Point who already struggle with congestion and limited public transit and will now see those issues become exacerbated.
Looking throughout the city, it becomes difficult to understand the judgement used in siting shelters. A New York Post article from a year ago pointed to questions raised by residents in Midtown about whether the city is paying above-average prices for shelters in certain neighborhoods, simply to show that they are being spread across neighborhoods equally; a goal of this administration. While possibly well intentioned, the seriousness of our city’s homeless crisis does not benefit from misguided and unnecessary spending simply for the sake of scoring political points.
The most deplorable part of this failed story is the rise of the new business of profiting from homeless shelters. The morally bankrupt have learned to make millions on the backs of communities and our most vulnerable.
The owners of this site, David Levitan and Liberty One Group sold out College Point with no regard for the lives they are affecting. They deliberately misfiled permits and documents to mislead the community and the Department of Buildings and yet the City still felt this was the right contract to enter into.
Since the early 2000s, Mr. Levitan has built or modified buildings throughout New York with the sole purpose of contracting with the City to reap millions in profits.
By his own admission in a New York Times article, he profits about a thousand dollars per homeless person per month. This needs to stop.
Community involvement cannot come at the end of the process. We must be engaged from the very first step. Fear and anger have crept into our neighborhoods as a result of the complete disregard for homes, businesses and families that have lived for generations in their communities.
I believe an immediate task force to review the siting of homeless shelters must be convened. Each and every Community Board must be tasked with submitting potential sites as well as the immediate infrastructure needs to support any possible site.
Every local community, civic and elected official must be involved, rather than simply being told there is no choice and to just “deal with it”. New Yorkers in College Point, Maspeth, the Rockaways and even midtown Manhattan have made it clear that the status quo cannot continue.
Councilmember Paul A. Vallone represents District 19.