Rockaway Heads To City Hall to Demand ‘Solutions, Not Shelters’

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“Solutions, not shelters” was the major message shouted on the steps of City Hall on Sunday, March 24, as residents, led by Councilman Eric Ulrich, brought the homeless shelter protest to the Mayor.

Dozens of residents who are concerned about the proposed shelter for up to 120 homeless men, at 226 Beach 101st Street, left the peninsula and traveled to Manhattan early on Sunday, to protest not only the proposed shelter, but the Mayor’s handling of the homelessness crisis across the city. Many who took an early ferry, first stopped at the Department of Homeless Services headquarters to protest, before continuing on to City Hall. Sunday’s protest came a few days after Councilman Ulrich led another protest outside of the Brooklyn home Steven Banks, who oversees the Department of Homeless Services (DHS).

Councilman Ulrich explained the purpose of the multiple protests, saying, “We have so many problems in this city, but homelessness is front and center and what we’re here to demand is a better plan from this administration, one that actually helps people get out of the shelter system and into permanent, affordable and stable housing. We are not here to demonize or vilify or attack people that find themselves in that situation. What we are trying to do is force this issue upon the administration, so they come up with real solutions that help us address this homeless population in the city.”

Ulrich continued, “What we’re here to protest are failed and hopeless homeless policies that are costing the City of New York billions of dollars and are providing no transition, no gateway for people who’ve fallen on hard times to transition out of the shelter system and into affordable and permanent, stable housing. What we should be spending the taxpayer money on are real solutions, not building 90 more shelters throughout the City of New York. What we want are solutions, not shelters.” The crowd responded by chanting the phrase.

Rockaway Beach Civic Association President John Cori, reiterated another message that has been made in regards to the homeless crisis—that it’s time to audit DHS. “We have fought for our beaches, we have fought for our boardwalk, we have fought for our quality of life in Rockaway and the big issue we have today is with Steven Banks and his ill-advised idea of putting 120 men on to 101st Street in Rockaway. The problem is there’s only about 70 people that live there. There are 4,000 kids who go to school within 1,000 feet, some within 501 feet. The community has not been told about it. There’s a lot of corruption going on within DHS. I want Scott Stringer to do an audit and I hope that he does it and we find out a lot of nasty stuff about DHS because there’s a problem when a person can go to HPD and rent out their apartments for $1600 a month and they go to DHS and rent them out for $3500. We want Scott Stringer to hear us. You want votes in the future? Then you give an audit of DHS for the Rockaway community,” Cori said.

Noreen Ellis, president of the Rockaway Civic Association, spoke on some of the possible solutions to the homeless crisis and why Rockaway’s proposed shelter is not a good idea. “Some things like the affordable housing components can be used, but these are not the solutions the city is coming up with. They’re coming up with paying $4000 a month per person and beating these people down so that they don’t feel good about themselves and they are preying on the communities. We already have vulnerable populations in our communities with adult housing and everything else. We are recovering from Hurricane Sandy. Our businesses are just rising. We have one hospital on the peninsula that is already burdened. We do not have jobs. We do not have anything, but yet some developer has partnered with some provider, who had partnered with DHS because it is all lucrative to them, but not to the community and our quality of life,” Ellis said.

Belle Harbor Property Owners Association President Hank Iori spoke of how the priority of the city should be to protect Rockaway, which is still vulnerable after Hurricane Sandy. "After all of this trauma that’s occurred in our community, why would they come and decide to put 120 homeless men in a location close to any schools, in a shopping area that’s just getting on its feet and trying to make a go of it? It just doesn’t make any sense. We have to stay focused on storm protection for the entire community. Once we get that resolved, we can talk about these issues. If you’re setting up a homeless shelter for men, you need guidance counselors there for them, you need to help with training, you need to help with getting them jobs. We’re a very caring community. We need to see that things get moved forward properly. This is very poorly thought out. The location is terrible. The cost is astronomical. It makes no sense to us,” Iori said.

Local Eddy Pastore also touched on some solutions and said that the blame for the crisis falls on more than just the city. “As much as this blame for this homeless situation falls on these steps and the mayor, it also falls on the governor because the governor and mayor should get together and maybe bring back Section 8 vouchers that the landlords were happy to take and not the voucher system they have today, where the landlords are afraid to take them, where you don’t even need to be working. Landlords are afraid to take people in that are on the fringes because if they can’t get them out when they stop paying, they’re there for months and months. There are solutions. There are things that the mayor and governor can do to solve this problem. By taking these people and hiding them in these communities in warehouses, they’re just warehousing people. It’s ridiculous,” Pastore said.

The protest concluded with some more chants and a final message from the crowd as they broke out into song, singing, “We’re not gonna take it, anymore.”

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