Community Pleads With CEC to Show Support in Shelter Battle

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The community is hoping that the District 27 Community Education Council gets on board with opposing the proposed shelter for Beach 101st Street and instead, consider advocating for the building to be used for educational purposes.

At a District 27 CEC meeting at Scholars’ Academy on Monday, October 21, parents, students and other community members came out strong to plead their case for why the proposed shelter that will house 120 men, is not a good fit for a location just one block away from multiple schools that hold as many as 5,000 students. Many provided their reasons and some even suggested that the Department of Education consider the proposed shelter location as the site of a future school instead.

“There’s no contract signed there with the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) yet. We have requested that the Department of Ed look at that building. It would make us all very happy if you took this building on 101st Street and made it into a universal 3K and Pre-K,” Democratic District Leader Lew Simon said before the board.

Even students from Scholars’ Academy came out to express their direct concerns with the shelter if it were to be approved. “As a student who participates in many clubs and activities in the school, before and after school, the darkness doesn’t secure my safety. I’m going to be commuting to and from school, without adult supervision, at times when my safety is at risk. Due to the late hours, I have to wait at bus stops for long periods of time, when residents of these shelters are asked to leave. This allows interactions between student and shelter residents to increase. How will my and other students’ safety be ensured outside of school hours?” a student named Sean said. “Also, our school yard is permanently open to the public. During lunch, students utilize this area to do homework and play games, but if this shelter opens, how will we have to alter our use of this area? The only thing separating this yard from the public is a fence, which can be very discomforting to many students that will encounter interactions with these shelter residents.”

Irene Dougherty, a concerned parent of students at Scholars’ Academy, as well as a representative  for Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato, further explained some concerns over the proposed shelter’s proximity to the school. “We are very concerned with the homeless shelter. It’s 592 feet from our school.We’re not unsympathetic to the plight of the homeless. Anyone can be a few paychecks away from being homeless. However, this peninsula is not the best place. We are still recovering from Hurricane Sandy. We have one hospital, no trauma center. If they need doctors, they have to travel, plus this is a transportation desert. Everyone here on the CEC is a parent, so from one parent to another, we’re asking that you recognize our concern,” Dougherty said. Among some of those concerns, Dougherty spoke of how the shelter residents would be required to leave the building after 8 a.m., when some of the nearby high school students don’t start class until 8:45 a.m.; how it is unknown whether or not the shelter residents will include a mentally ill population; and how if any shelter residents have been involved in any sexual crimes, that they would not have to be identified at the shelter, giving the public no notice. Dougherty proposed an alternative to the shelter plan instead, saying,” Here’s a building that the city is putting money into. Maybe we can use that. We have quite a few District 75 children that would strive in a smaller building.”

Another parent made a point that if the shelter were approved, it would be a deterrent for parents to send their children to the nearby schools. “Scholars' is a school that has been proven to draw in children not only from this district, but other boroughs. It has had incredible success. If there is a homeless shelter here, this is going to enter into the decision of a parent who is considering sending their children to this school or to the other nearby schools, which have been trying to encourage students to come to them. They previously closed down the school that was there and opened up these new schools and are hopeful. Putting a shelter one block away is going to discourage students from coming to these schools,” the parent said.

Also among the speakers were local resident Torey Schnupp and Attorney Mike Scala, who have been among those leading the shelter protest since the start, as part of Rockaway Solutions Not Shelters. Schnupp spoke about the safety concerns the shelter would pose to students in the area, and criticized Mayor de Blasio for his failed policies in response to the homeless crisis. Scala explained some of the legal concerns he’s discovered within the shelter contract, especially if the shelter is used to house the mentally ill, which Scala says several parts of the contract, including mentions of mental health services, suggest it’s a possibility.

That possibility has parents like Patrick Larkin very concerned. “We don’t know who’s going to be there. There are 5,000 children in these schools. It only takes one predator and I don’t want my child or anyone’s child to be that one because the City of New York fell through on their guarantee for our children to have a safe education,” Larkin said.

After hearing from the speakers, District 27 CEC member Alysa O’Shea, who herself suggested that the proposed shelter was in a bad location, made a motion for the CEC to write a letter, supporting Community Board 14’s recommendation to deny the shelter, something that was also requested at the last CEC meeting on the topic. However, a member of the CEC claimed that they haven’t received CB14’s letter about the decision yet, and some other members are new to the CEC and suggested that they’d like to see CB14’s recommendation before making a decision. Lew Simon said he would send it to the CEC. Some also suggested inviting DHS back for another meeting to provide further information. However, with one CEC member acknowledging that “no one wants this,” it seems as if they are willing to throw their support behind the community.

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