By JON CRONIN
A battle to protest an onslaught of homeless shelters in Queens has led to a hunger strike and campout protest in Ozone Park.
Sam Esposito, a retired police officer and motivating organizer behind the movement against the proposed shelter, has undertaken a hunger strike, while sleeping outside the site in a tent on the sidewalk. The shelter is planned for 85-15 101st Ave. in Ozone Park.
Esposito said that his last meal was on Sunday, and he spent his first night on the street in his tent—sleeping on an air mattress—on Monday night. His purpose is to bring Mayor Bill de Blasio or other city officials to the table to negotiate a change in occupancy of the shelter. Residents and local politicians have spoken out against the plan for the shelter, which would house 113 single, mentally ill men at the site.
“I got about four hours of sleep,” Esposito said of his first night on the street.
On Tuesday, Esposito hosted a press conference with E. Christopher Murray, Esq., an attorney representing the residents of Ozone Park in a lawsuit against de Blasio; the city’s Human Resources Administration; that agency’s commissioner, Steven Banks; the operator of the proposed shelter, Lantern Community Services Inc.; and 101 Realty Group LLC.
Murray stated that the purpose of the lawsuit is to prove that the city did not follow due process in choosing the site. Chiefly, he believes that the city did not appropriately review the site through the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act. The lawsuit also states that site selection should be reviewed under the city’s Fair Share Criteria, and cannot function as a shelter for the mentally ill because it does not have proper licensing by the state’s Office of Mental Health.
Murray also believes that housing 113 residents would exceed the legal limit of the number of people that the city can house at the site.
State Sen. Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) reiterated that prior mayoral administrations have not implemented such policies without community input beforehand. He noted that he passed three schools on the way to the press conference. Still, he believes that if the mayor and city officials come to the table, “We can find common ground.”
Assemblyman Michael Miller (D-Woodhaven) said that the city’s Department of Homeless Services (DHS) told the community that the shelter would close at 10 p.m., and if a person arrived later, he or she would have to sleep in the lobby of the shelter. Miller believes that if shelter residents were faced with that choice, they would instead choose to sleep on the streets and the stoops of the neighborhood.
He added that previous mayoral administrations provided better solutions for handling the mentally ill homeless, such as finding room for them at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Queens Village.
In the meantime, Esposito noted that he was “here for the duration.” He added that he spoke with the captain of the 102nd Precinct, and was told that he could sleep at the site as long as he didn’t interfere with a construction crew at the site.
“The cops have been wonderful,” he said, adding that they drop by to check on him. He said that when he helped to organize the meeting with the DHS and the community, “it wasn’t enough. The mayor wasn’t hearing us.”
“I don’t know how else to get attention. I could lose the weight anyway,” he concluded.
Reach reporter Jon Cronin via email at email@example.com.