Community members were outraged when representatives from the mayor’s office said the city was placing more supportive housing for homeless veterans within Community Board 12, which encompasses portions of Jamaica, Hollis, St. Albans and South Ozone Park.
Anthony Rivers, a spokesman from the local advocacy group People for the Neighborhood, said they met with city officials on December 11 in a closed-door meeting.
“We expressed to them our concerns that we were already saturated with this type of housing in Community Board 12, but to no avail,” Rivers said. “The de Blasio staff simply told us, without a doubt, that this is happening and we have to accept it.”
After sitting down with people from the organization, Rivers said they decided to bring the matter to court. On December 16, they received a temporary restraining order for the new shelter on Hollis Avenue, and an appellate court upheld the decision.
But according to Rivers, when the restraining order was lifted, the city began housing homeless veterans in the shelter. The group went to court again on Thursday.
Rivers, an honorably discharged member of the U.S. Marine Corps, expressed that the group was not against the homeless or veterans, but rather the unfair burden the area faces in housing homeless New Yorkers.
“We are against the oversaturation of these types of facilities in Community Board 12, especially without any input from our community,” he said.
Adrienne Adams, chair of Community Board 12, noted that her district serves 32 percent of “problem populations” in Queens, more than any other community board. Back in December 2014, the board voted unanimously to pass a resolution requesting a moratorium on the building or expansion of any more “problem facilities” within the district.
“Southeast Queens alone holds 53 percent of the homeless shelters and group homes in the entire borough of Queens,” Adams said. “We currently house 11 out of the 19 identified homeless facilities and have been the default choice, a dumping ground for problem facilities that other communities do not want.”
Adams said the area cannot bear the burden of housing homeless populations for the entire borough while some communities, such as Community Board 11, serves no “problem population.”
“In the year 2016, we are still dealing with disparity, inequity and inequality in our communities of color,” she said.
Public Advocate Letitia James joined People for the Neighborhood in court. She said at the Wednesday rally that they’re not anti-veteran, but for equality and fairness.
“If you want to talk about equality and fairness, then Community Board 12 should not be the district where a significant number of social services are placed,” James said. “It is not fair.”
She added that the real issue is the lack of affordable housing for veterans, families and struggling residents. She also criticized the way city officials handled communication with community members.
“As soon as it was lifted, without any consultation or notification to any of the individuals here, they decided to go forward with this plan,” she said. “That is an act of disrespect.”
Reverend Phil Craig, the Queens president of Reverend Al Sharpton’s organization National Action Network, quoted a Bible verse that said when someone slaps you on one cheek, turn the other cheek.
“Southeast Queens don't have any more cheeks to be slapped on,” Craig said. “We are tired of being slapped, we are tired of being kicked and we can resolve this issue by reversing this process and coming to the table the way it was supposed to be done in the first place.”
The president of the NAACP’s Jamaica Branch also spoke out against the unfair placement of homeless shelters. Leroy Gadsden said it was obvious the placement was done on a “race-based basis.”
“The darker your community, the more shelters you have. The whiter your community, the less shelter you have,” Gadsden said. “If numbers don’t lie, then truly race is a factor when the decision is made.”
Gadsden also objected to the lack of dialogue with the community.
“The mayor’s office failed to meet with the people and engaged in meaningful dialogue on the placement of this shelter,” he added.
After the rally, Councilman I. Daneek Miller said there is a real question of what he called “fair share equity” throughout the city. He pointed to a legislative package that would reform service inequalities on issues like housing, waste management and environmental justice.
“These are all services that are paramount to the fabric of the city, but communities, in particular working-class communities and communities of color, should not be the ones that bear the burden,” Miller said.