Shelter Fallout 120 Homeless Heading To Beach 101

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Rockaway Beach is reeling. St. Camillus Catholic Academy is closing and a homeless shelter is opening. At least that’s what is proposed, and residents and local elected officials vow to do what they can to stop the plan to house 120 homeless men at a warehouse located at 226 Beach 101st Street.

The news, first reported online by The Wave, was confirmed by Jon Gaska of Community Board 14 who told The Rockaway Times that he had heard a rumor of a homeless shelter coming to the building and contacted the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) which, after a delay, confirmed the plans. According to DHS, the plans will involve nonprofit service provider, Black Vets for Social Justice, but it is not clear if any of the homeless individuals will be veterans.

Online reaction was overwhelmingly negative and there was an immediate call to action by John Cori of the Rockaway Beach Civic Association. Cori will be spearheading a candle/flashlight vigil against the proposal and is urging residents of all neighborhoods to join him this Friday, February 15 at 6:30 p.m. at Beach 101st Street and Rockaway Beach Boulevard. He encourages people to bring signs to display opposition.

The warehouse at 226 Beach 101st Street, the long-ago home of Roxbury Mills, is not currently suitable for any sort of residency and will have to be overhauled to allow for living space. According to the Buildings Department website, no permits or applications for such renovations have yet been filed. The only active permit is for plywood sidewalk fencing, an “Alteration Type 3,” which states: “No change in use, occupancy.”

The zoning, R5D, however, does allow for a wide variety of housing.

The building was purchased by Yosef Rabinowitz (sometimes identified as Joseph Rabinowitz or JoJo Rabinowitz) of 175 Blake Ave, Brooklyn for a little over $3 million in April 2018. 

The Rockaway Times called Rabinowitz at his business, Liberty One Group, but did not receive a return call by press time.   

Supportive housing seems to be part of the Rabinowitz portfolio. According to the website, The Real Deal, in 2017, Rabinowitz bought a two-story medical facility in Flatbush for $11.75 million, which is “used for housing for seniors with mental illness.” The same source said Rabinowitz bought a drug and alcohol rehab center in Prospect Heights headquarters for $10.5 million.

Various online sources list Rabinowitz as an owner or co-owner of the Liberty One Group, a real estate investment company. In October 2018, protesters lined up in front of a proposed shelter in College Point. That building at 127-03 20th Avenue, was earmarked to be a shelter by the DHS. That building is owned by Liberty One Group.

Following the announcement of Cori’s planned vigil, elected officials weighed in on the shelter proposal. City Councilman Eric Ulrich, who is running for Public Advocate, said, “I am deeply disturbed by Mayor de Blasio’s plan to bring a large-scale homeless shelter to Rockaway Park. The Peninsula is already inundated with nursing homes, rehabilitation centers and temporary shelters. The proposed plan is unacceptable, and I pledge to fight it tooth and nail!”

Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato said, “The proposed homeless shelter on 101st Street is a completely misguided and irresponsible plan. Our families have been through so much to rebuild our neighborhoods from the effects of Hurricanes Irene and Sandy and still are not whole. We do not need additional hurdles.”

State Senator Joe Addabbo stated concerns about its size and proposed location. “I believe one major issue is the size of this proposed shelter, as well as its proximity to the schools within the area. I have always advocated for much smaller shelters that better assist the homeless and acclimate better within a community.”     

Scholars’ Academy is just three short blocks away from the planned shelter. A new business, Sorrentino’s Meats, just around the corner is set to open soon.

The Rockaway Times reached out to the DHS for confirmation of the news. Arianna Fishman of DHS not only confirmed, but further explained the implementation of the shelter, saying, “Homeless New Yorkers come from every community across the five boroughs, so we need every community to come together to address homelessness. As we implement our borough-based approach, we are ending the use of all cluster sites and commercial hotel facilities citywide and distributing new high-quality facilities more equitably across the five boroughs to give homeless New Yorkers the opportunity to be sheltered in their home borough, closer to their support networks and communities they last called home as they stabilize their lives. This location will be the first of its kind in this Community District, offering 120 individuals experiencing homelessness the opportunity to get back on their feet closer to their anchors of life. Working together with neighbors and not-for-profit service provider Black Vets for Social Justice, we’re confident that these families will be warmly welcomed—and through collaborative support and compassion, we will make this the best experience it can be for these individuals as they get back on their feet.”

It’s not unusual for communities anywhere to resist new shelters, but Rockaway residents can point to actual statistics showing that the peninsula is already overburdened. The NYU Furman Center annually publishes The State of New York City’s Housing and Neighborhoods report, which provides data and analysis about housing, land use, demographics, and quality of life for each borough. According to the report, Rockaway has a disproportionate number of “severely rent-burdened households,” adult and nursing homes, and the highest unemployment rate in the borough.

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