Locals Earn Major Win in Shelter Battle

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 Those from Rockaway Solutions Not Shelters (RSNS) have proven that they’re not standing down in the shelter fight. On Friday, January 17, the organization had a major win in the shelter battle, when a New York State Supreme Court justice decided to issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the shelter.

“It’s as if it’s frozen in time,” Torey Schnupp, lead activist behind RSNS said, recalling the words of the judge after the TRO was issued. The TRO means no one is supposed to enter the building for any reason, effectively putting all work on halt and preventing anyone from moving in to the building at 226 Beach 101st Street.

"The ruling is significant," Schnupp said. "While we want to see the male homeless population helped back to their feet, we have limitations as a peninsula that is already inundated with people in need and still recovering from Hurricane Sandy."

At Friday’s hearing at the Queens Supreme Court, attorney Mike Scala faced off with New York City lawyers representing the Department of Homeless Services (DHS). Scala raised numerous legal issues during the hearing, including that DHS' environmental review was improper, the shelter would constitute a residence for the mentally disabled in violation of state law and there was evidence of financial impropriety with the not-for-profit service provider, Black Veterans for Social Justice. Opposing counsel contended there was no imminent harm, claiming the shelter would not open until February—but the judge was unpersuaded by their defense.

After the decision on Friday morning, Scala and Schnupp, along with a group of officers from the 100th Precinct, went to the proposed shelter to present the court order to workers at the building. The workers were then given the opportunity to enter the building to grab what they needed, before having to shut down all operations and vacate the premises.

The TRO will last at least until Monday, January 27, when Scala and Schnupp will once again face off with representatives from DHS for another hearing. While just a temporary measure, Scala says it carries a heavy message.

"This win is meaningful for the Rockaway community," Scala said. "It means we've established a likelihood that the city is breaking the law. It's only the first step in the case, but it's certainly one in the right direction. Residents have felt helpless throughout the whole process and this is a measure of vindication."

However, it wasn’t long before the court order was allegedly violated. According to Schnupp, eagle-eyed neighbors noticed someone enter the building on Monday, January 20. Schnupp responded to the building as 911 was called. The foreman for the project and another man were on site. As police were informed this is a civil matter, there was allegedly little they could do. But Schnupp says with evidence in hand to present to the judge at the upcoming hearing on Monday, showing that the court order was violated, the judge may not take it lightly. “Hopefully the judge will decide to extend it because of a blatant disregard for the TRO,” Schnupp said, adding that neighbors are continuing to stay vigilant to see if anyone else enters the building this week.

According to Schnupp, DHS had intended to open the shelter sometime between February 1 and 15, but with the TRO in place and no one legally permitted to enter the building, that potential opening date is at the very least, pushed further back.

But RSNS’ fight isn’t over yet. With this being the first of many steps RSNS has planned to fight the shelter, now is an important time to gain community support. RSNS is requesting donations to their effort. Checks can be made out to Rockaway Solutions Not Shelters and sent to 142 Beach 92nd Street, Rockaway Beach, NY 11693. Donations can also be made online by finding the Rockaway Solutions Not Shelters campaign on GoFundMe.com

A major reason behind the fight against the shelter is the way it’s being handled by the city.

"The city needs to reevaluate its plan to move forward with more shelters and start offering real solutions, starting with in-patient mental health services and substance abuse rehabilitation," concluded Schnupp. "Men in need don't need to be placed on cots amidst the highest unemployment rate in Queens, poor public transit and 4,000 students a block away."

The Rockaway Times will provide further updates that may come from the next hearing scheduled for Monday, January 27.

By Katie McFadden

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