District 30 Council Member Robert Holden // Courtesy of Robert Holden

Glendale Braces For A Familiar Shelter Battle

David Brand

Council Member Robert Holden and Glendale residents are gearing up for another fight with the Department of Homeless Services, and it’s a familiar one.

On Friday, DHS said it was considering a proposal for a homeless shelter inside an abandoned factory at 78-16 Cooper Avenue, a site previously proposed for shelter use in 2013. Holden, then the president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, vigorously opposed the proposal and rallied residents to successfully block the site. Holden’s protests against the shelter in Glendale and, later, the use of a Maspeth hotel as shelter for homeless New Yorkers, helped catapult his 2017 candidacy for City Council.

“My office had received several reports from area residents over the last few days about activity at the former manufacturing building in Glendale,” Holden said a statement. “After sending numerous inquiries to various DHS officials over a 24-hour period, and speaking with [DHS] Commissioner Steven Banks, these reports have validity, and I am extremely concerned.”

The rumors about the renewed shelter proposal first began appearing on Facebook last week after some residents said they saw people near the factory. 

“This is not a proper location for any shelter, it is out of character and in no way will be accepted by the community,” Holden said. “I vehemently disagree with 78-16 Cooper Avenue as a viable site for a large men’s shelter, and will vigorously fight against it as I have in the past.”

There are 135 households comprised of 287 individuals from Community District 5 in shelters citywide, but only 104 people are staying in shelters within CD5. All temporarily reside in a shelter hotel, according to DHS.

There are no traditional homeless shelters in the district.

As of press time, Community Board 5 did not respond to the Eagle’s request for comment.

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Turning the Tide on homelessness plan calls for the elimination of shelter hotels and cluster sites used to house homeless individuals and families.

“Homeless New Yorkers come from every community across the five boroughs, which is why we all must do our part to help our neighbors in need get back on their feet,” DHS spokesperson Isaac McGinn told the Queens Daily Eagle. “We provide notification to communities when a viable proposal from a not-for-profit service provider has been fully evaluated—and communities will be the first to know as locations are identified for use as shelter.”

McGinn said that with half of homeless people in Queens currently being sheltered in commercial hotels, the city “must identify high-quality, borough-based replacement capacity in Queens in order to finally phase out the use of commercial hotel locations once and for all.”

Overall, more than 8,100 people from Queens reside in homeless shelters. Nearly half of the people sheltered in Queens are living in commercial hotels due to the lack of capacity in city’s sprawling shelter system.

Daniel Kurzyna, Holden’s spokesperson, said Holden is “wary of men’s shelter” and added that the council member believes the “community would be accepting of a smaller family shelter.”

“We’re going to fight against this tooth and nail,” Kurzyna told the Eagle.

When asked where Holden think homeless men should be sheltered, Kurzyna declined to comment.

The renewed shelter battle in Glendale will be the second such community dispute in the past two weeks.

On July 19, residents of Ozone Park confronted DHS at a public hearing about a proposed shelter for men with mental illness in a vacant church.

“I don’t want them here,” said one Ozone Park resident who declined to give his name. “Homeless? I don’t trust them.”

In an interview, State Sen. Joseph Addabbo, Jr., who represents Ozone Park, told the Eagle that he and other residents demand more community input when it comes to siting homeless shelters in residential areas.

“You get the phone call saying, ‘Oh, you’re getting [a shelter]’ and there’s no community input.  This creates the animosity,” Addabbo said. “It’s no way to treat a homeless person looking for help and it’s no way to treat middle class people trying to make ends meat and own a home.”

Charmel Lucas, who resides in a Manhattan shelter and works for Picture the Homeless, said she understands the pushback from community members who do not want a shelter near their homes, but she wants to see that not-in-my-backyard energy channeled into a movement for more affordable housing.

“At the end of the day, homeless people don’t want to see shelters built, we want to see extremely low-income housing built,” Lucas said. “It’s ridiculous to build shelters when people just really need a place to live.”

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