The line to get inside stretched up the hill that leads into the school campus as attendees waited to pass through metal detectors.
Once inside and seated, they were introduced to officials from the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) and Westhab, the Yonkers-based nonprofit provider that will operate the shelter at 78-16 Cooper Avenue for 200 single men.
Matthew Borden, assistant commissioner of Government and External Affairs at DHS, started off the hearing by acknowledging that they wanted to listen to residents’ concerns and questions.
“We want to really make sure you walk away feeling heard and understood,” Borden told the crowd. “I believe in having good community relationships.”
Jim Coughlin, senior vice president of services for Westhab, added that the Glendale shelter will have a community advisory board and encouraged participation from the public.
“The only way we’ll be successful with this particular program is with input and partnership with all of you,” he said. “We know we can’t do it without you.”
But soon after the speakers on stage described the plan for the 200 homeless men, which includes offering case managers, services and job training, the public hearing devolved into shouting, booing, heckling and jeering.
Though some were supportive of the homeless, others villifed them as criminals.
Middle Village resident Nicole Marchese said she did not want homeless people in the area. She called them drug addicts and sexual offenders, warning that they could “attack senior citizens.”
“Put them in a desolate area away from society,” she said to many cheers. “They should be locked away forever.”
Albergo also called the homeless “low-life” that shouldn’t be around children.
“I don’t want you here at all,” she added. “You’re not welcome in Middle Village and Glendale.”
Another resident, Isabella Cinelli, bluntly shared that she doesn’t want a homeless shelter in the neighborhood.
“I do not care about the homeless,” she said. “I feel sorry, but I don’t want them in my backyard.
“They are a ticking bomb,” she added. “I hope somebody’s going to burn the place down.”
Having heard enough, Borden jumped in to reply that he wouldn’t stand for that rhetoric.
“You can’t threaten to bomb a shelter where there are people living,” he said. “I refuse to accept that a New Yorker would say that.”
“We didn’t come here for folks to be verbally abusive and vilify our clients,” added DHS Deputy Commissioner Annabel Palma. “Our clients are not criminals.”
Crystal Wolfe, a member of Community Board 5 who authored a book about solutions to homelessness and founded the nonprofit Catering For the Homeless, tried to alleviate “unfounded” concerns during the hearing.
She listed domestic violence, low wages, lack of affordable housing and poverty among the many causes of homelessness.
But the anti-shelter audience members shouted her down. Some responded by saying, “put them in your house,” and “we don’t want to hear it.”
The booing increased when she stated that property values do not decrease when homeless shelters enter a neighborhood.
“I encourage us to be respectful and work with the people to help the homeless,” Wolfe said before leaving the microphone.
Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi, who has been advocating for the state to pass a rental subsidy called Home Stability Support (HSS) to tackle homelessness, shamed people who were yelling that all homeless people were criminals or sexual predators.
“For those of you saying nasty things about homeless people, you are way out of line,” he said.
Despite the raucous response from the crowd, Westhab provided some information when questioned by CB5 members. Coughlin said the men who come into the shelter will be “already employed or assessed as employable.”
The nonprofit will conduct their own assessment, and if they find the participant is not ready for employment, they will be referred back to DHS.
“If they need a higher level of care, they will be transferred somewhere else,” said DHS Deputy Commissioner Iris Rodriguez.
When asked about the discrepancies with the permit filings, Borden responded that DHS buildings are “some of the most regulated buildings” in the entire state.
“We can’t open a site without DOB approval and FDNY approval,” he said.
Mike Papa from the Glendale Middle Village Coalition insisted that “this is not a done deal.”
“We’re not here to listen to these people’s excuses or justifications of why they’re going to put this in our community,” he said. “We’re here to tell you we will not accept this facility in our community.”
Councilman Robert Holden, who pushed city agencies to build a District 75 school on the Cooper Avenue site before being rebuffed at the eleventh hour, also criticized the plan.
“This shelter will not be at 78-16,” he said. “We’ll make sure of it.”
One group of attendees that offered a different view of the situation came from the Ridgewood Tenants Union (RTU). While the organization acknowledged that shelters are not the solution, they showed up to support their homeless neighbors.
Raquel Namuche, an organizer with RTU, called on the residents to work together to “fight City Hall” and their common enemy, Mayor Bill de Blasio.
“If we want to end homelessness, we have to be on the same side fighting together,” she said. “To be divided helps no one.”
But Namuche was accused of not being from the area and was frequently yelled at during her two-minute speaking time.
Eventually, Namuche and the Ridgewood Tenants Union members were escorted out by NYPD officers.
CB5’s Special Committee on Homelessness will meet on October 10 to put together their thoughts into a recommendation. The full board will vote on an action at its monthly meeting on Wednesday, October 16.
Dmytro Fedkowskyj, who chairs the committee, said while the hearing started off productive, it got “a little crazy.”
“We’re trying to understand and take back information for our committee meeting so we can process it and come up with our recommendation,” he said. “It was kind of disruptive to the process, unfortunately.”
Fedkowskyj noted that he heard the security concerns from residents, and agreed that smaller shelters function better than large ones.
He said the community doesn’t want the homeless shelter, and from what he’s heard from his colleagues, the community board will likely vote against it.
“I’m hopeful we can challenge this to the point that it doesn’t happen,” he said.
The Middle Village resident also thought that many of the comments stated at the hearing “were not appropriate.”
“I don’t think there’s any serious intent behind those comments,” Fedkowskyj said. “I think emotions took over, fear took over.
“That’s not our community, our community is better than that,” he added. “That’s not a representation of us.”