Shelter opponents protest at commissioner’s Brooklyn home
by Benjamin Fang
Sep 20, 2016 | 7562 views | 0 0 comments | 28 28 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Protesters boarded three coach buses that went to Windsor Terrace.
Protesters boarded three coach buses that went to Windsor Terrace.
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Maspeth protesters blowing whistles and horns on Sherman Avenue, where Commissioner Steven Banks lives.
Maspeth protesters blowing whistles and horns on Sherman Avenue, where Commissioner Steven Banks lives.
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The protesters demonstrated for over an hour at the quiet neighborhood.
The protesters demonstrated for over an hour at the quiet neighborhood.
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Maspeth protesters vowed to return to the commissioner's house to protest the homeless shelter.
Maspeth protesters vowed to return to the commissioner's house to protest the homeless shelter.
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After weeks of daily demonstrations in front of the Holiday Inn Express that the city wants to convert into a homeless shelter, Maspeth protesters took to the streets Thursday night in Windsor Terrace, the neighborhood where Department of Homeless Services (DHS) Commissioner Steven Banks lives.

More than 150 residents boarded three coach buses in front of the Holiday Inn. When they arrived on Sherman Street in Brooklyn, they marched down the block blowing whistles and horns, carrying signs and chanting, “Banks gotta go.”

For the next hour, as many Windsor Terrace residents sat on their stoops observing, Maspeth protesters directed as much noise as they could toward Bank’s house.

“We have nothing against homeless people, but we have a definite problem with the way he’s treating us and the homeless people,” said Michael LoCascio, a protest organizer and Community Board 5 member. “We’re going to be here until that man understands we’re not going to tolerate it.”

As the shouting continued, one resident who identified herself as Cheryl and has lived on the Brooklyn block for more than six decades, took issue with the protesters. She walked up to the police tape and began screaming at them.

“Don’t bring this into a private block, we don’t want to hear this,” she later said to a group of reporters. “Go where it matters. Go to de Blasio, go to City Hall.”

Cheryl was then drowned out by the protesters, who blew whistles and horns in her direction.

“Deal with it!” screamed one protester. “We’ll be here everyday.”

LoCascio later apologized to the residents for disturbing them, but made clear that the protests were aimed at Banks.

“We’re not here to harm or upset any of you,” he said. “But we have to let Mr. Banks know how we feel. Unfortunately, he’s your neighbor.”

After receiving many threats, Banks reportedly filed an aggravated assault complaint with the NYPD. He appeared to not have been home on Thursday night as the protest raged on.

In a statement, mayoral spokeswoman Aja Worthy-Davis called the protests in front of Banks’s house “harassment.”

“Intimidation and threats are not how we resolve problems in New York City,” the statement read. “The city will continue to engage with community members regarding this proposal, but New York City will not stand for the harassment of a government official and his family at their home.

“Expanding our city’s shelters is not easy or popular, but New Yorkers deserve substantive action that recognizes the simple truth that the citywide issue of homelessness requires an equitable, citywide solution,” Worthy-Davis added.

In response, Robert Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, released a statement pointing at Mayor Bill de Blasio’s protest of the closing of Long Island College Hospital (LICH) back in 2013 when he was running for mayor.

“Since when are peaceful protests equivalent to intimidation and threats?” Holden asked. “As I recall, it was Mayor de Blasio who made sure he got arrested protesting the closure of Long Island College Hospital while chanting, 'no hospital, no peace.'

“Instead of converting LICH into affordable housing to help lessen the homeless crisis, he ended up selling it to a developer and triggering a federal investigation,” Holden added. “The administration's criticisms of our actions ring hollow.”

John Scarimbolo, a Sherman Street resident since 1991, said he could sympathize with the protests because “no one wants a homeless shelter in their backyard.” He said he wasn’t bothered by it for now, but if it continued much longer, he would take issue with it.

“I think it’s part of democracy,” he said. “I see right on both sides.”

Although he’s never met Banks, Scarimbolo said his neighbor was likely not even home, so he won’t feel the impact of the protesters’ voices.

“If I was him, I’d be at a Broadway show and restaurant and come home at midnight,” he said. “Why would I want to see this?”

Many protesters have argued that instead of opening a shelter in Maspeth, the city should open one near Banks’s house. Like other Windsor Terrace neighbors, Scarimbolo pointed out that there are two shelters within a mile. One of them is a shelter for battered women that sits in an armory with the local YMCA.

When asked if that shelter has caused any trouble, Scarimbolo said he hasn’t heard many complaints.

“You do see some women asking for money,” he said. “It’s a little disconcerting, but no more so than someone on the subway.”

Maspeth protester Mike Papa took the bullhorn to respond to Banks filing the harassment complaint with the police. He said the commissioner can’t hide behind his position and the members of the NYPD.

“We the community of Maspeth are in fact the ones being harassed by you,” Papa said. “Mr. Banks is personally attacking each and every one of us here and our way of lives.”

He said all the community wants is peace of mind and safety. Papa said he’s worried about leaving his parents and kids at home or letting his children go to the park if the shelter is opened.

“That’s harassment right there, that we have to worry about this,” he said.

Protesters pledged to return. At about 9 p.m., they hopped onto three coach buses and headed back to Maspeth.

“You brought this to our house, and we’re bringing it to yours,” Papa said before leaving.
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