Concerns over the de Blasio administration’s proposed new homeless shelter in their neighborhood has led residents to organize and revive the once defunct Ozone Park Block Association. The reorganized group held its first official meeting at Nativity Church on Tuesday night with a focus on how the block association can effect further changes in the neighborhood.
Ozone Park residents have been battling de Blasio’s proposal for months. It aims to place a homeless shelter for 113 mentally ill men on 101st Avenue and 86th Street — a location that’s within walking distance of five schools, a church, and a mosque. Residents maintain that they aren’t opposed to a homeless shelter in their community. For most, the proposed location is too residential to house adult men with mental health issues, so they’re seeking to change the shelter’s demographic. The elderly, women and children, or veterans are all groups they say they are willing to welcome into the neighborhood, instead of adult men.
The shelter proposal has undoubtedly mobilized more residents to get involved in civic engagement. Despite Tuesday’s rainy weather, the meeting still inspired approximately 90 people to attend.
“The homeless shelter right now is obviously the most important thing for our community. It’s probably one of the most important things in decades, really, [because] it does affect us long term,” said state Senator Joseph Addabbo (D – Howard Beach), who attended the meeting.
In addition to voicing their neighborhood concerns, residents in attendance also appointed members to the block association’s board. Civic leader Sam Esposito has served as the main coordinator for the organization’s revival. He said he wants the board to reflect the diversity of Ozone Park — true representation is crucial to provide a real voice for the people.
“The reason we’re doing this really — is to keep people’s hopes alive that there’s something we can do to work together. You don’t have to run, you don’t have to move, cause people are gonna listen to you. We’re hoping that people want a place to go. They want to be heard. At least someone’s listening. They want their politicians to be listening. And they don’t want to be yes’d to death anymore,” Esposito said.
Operating mainly through Facebook, the organization has already provided an outlet for residents to voice their concerns on a variety of issues other than the homeless shelter, including monthly clean-ups throughout the neighborhood, promoting senior centers, and fundraising for different organizations that cater to the community.
“After the homeless shelter is figured out, we’re still a community. We still need to have community advocacy for cleaning up the streets,” said Andriana Espada, who now operates as the block association secretary. “I mean, being here, are we just a homeless shelter advocacy group? No, we’re dealing with other issues, and fundraisers, and helping the schools. Had the shelter issue not been brought up, I don’t think that any of us would have come together.”
The Ozone Park Block Association meetings will be held on the 4th Tuesday of every month, and locations will vary depending on availability.