Ozone Park is the latest victim of a failed process in dealing with the city’s growing homeless population. This week, residents learned that the city’s Department of Homeless Services is planning to put a shelter for adult men with mental challenges in their community, sparking fear, anger and a sense of helplessness that was visible at Tuesday night’s Community Board 9 meeting.
We have seen this movie before, when residents of Maspeth erupted into anger over a shelter being thrust upon them in 2016. This week, like back then, the community felt blindsided by the decision—because they were.
We understand that the process currently in place is very restrictive to the DHS. Workers at the agency are trying to identify homeless people who need help and quickly find them shelter. They are also doing so with a restrictive budget and a mandate to move too fast for communities to properly respond.
Our beef is not with the agency; it is with you, Mr. Mayor. Your silence on this issue and lack of foresight is making enemies of honest, caring people in these communities, when they should be your partners in a unified goal to provide help to a growing homeless population.
But they can’t help you in your mission if you continually insult them with your indifference to the very real stress working families are facing when they are told a shelter for mentally challenged men is opening up down the street.
Instead of the masses finding out on social media, maybe it would be better if the city engaged in an outreach campaign to prepare all community boards for this possibility. Brief them on the trends with the homeless population, give them a reasonable estimate of how many homeless shelters may be needed around the city in coming months or years, and heck, maybe even ask them if they have an idea of how to help.
People are smart enough to understand shelters are placed in neighborhoods where housing costs are lower because DHS has a budget. They also understand that this is not a normal development issue where you can take the time to go through a more thorough process because homeless people need help immediately.
But the residents of Ozone Park, and other Queens neighborhoods, are also rightfully offended when they feel they are not given a chance to help find a solution that doesn’t disrupt their communities. They deserve to be given a say in where a shelter may go, or the opportunity to talk to law enforcement about what steps may be taken to make sure the people are safe.
It makes sense that you can’t have homeless shelters in Park Slope or on Park Avenue because the costs are prohibitive. But Mr. Mayor, you were elected to office in 2013 by calling for higher taxes on the rich in order to bring equality to the city. By letting this flawed policy continue you are disproportionately hurting the workingclass people you purportedly represent. Worse, you are not giving them the rightful dignity of caring about their concerns and explaining yourself.