With the underpass partly blocked off by police officers, protesters chanted “no homeless shelter” while cars passing by honked in support.
The rally is the latest effort by opponents of the shelter, including Councilman Robert Holden, the Glendale-Middle Village Coalition and local civic leaders, to halt the facility meant to house 200 men.
Though the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) intends to open the site early next year, opponents vowed to continue fighting the city’s plan.
“We shouldn’t accept this, we won’t accept this,” Holden said at the rally. “We’re not going to trust Mayor Bill de Blasio, the dope from Park Slope, with our community. We know what’s best for our community, not him.”
The councilman, who led nightly protests against the Maspeth Holiday Inn Express before he was elected to office, said the next time they have a demonstration, it will be a march around the community.
“We’re going to shut down Cooper Avenue,” Holden said. “We can’t just stand here and yell at a building. We have to march, go to City Hall, go to the mayor and the commissioner.”
Holden repeated to the crowd that de Blasio told him the site is “90 percent” likely to become a District 75 school for special needs students. The councilman believed him for a year, only to be duped, he said.
“I learned quickly that they’re liars,” he said. “They don’t care.”
Mike Papa of the Glendale-Middle Village Coalition said a District 75 school is sorely needed because of the situation at PS 9, another District 75 school located in an industrial part of Maspeth.
Papa said the school’s principal has to go to seven different locations in one day, which spreads him thin. He also said some students spend nearly four hours a day on a bus to go to and from school.
“I don’t think that’s fair to them,” he said. “They’re not getting the services they need.”
While Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza has dedicated $16 million for capital improvements at PS 9, Papa said the problem isn’t the school building, but rather that the site is over capacity. A new District 75 school in Glendale would have solved many of those problems, he said.
The Glendale-Middle Village Coalition leader has asserted that the homeless shelter is actually a “halfway house,” meant to house “dangerous, unpredictable, drug-abusing ex-convicts” coming out of Rikers Island.
He blamed Governor Andrew Cuomo for “taking away all the funding for mental hospitals” where people with mental illnesses belong, rather than “roaming the streets” of the neighborhood.
“We take care of our own people here,” he said. “We did not produce 250 single homeless men with drug problems from our community.”
Papa accused Mayor de Blasio, DHS and the Department of Buildings (DOB) of corruption, citing that Michael Wilner, the owner of the former factory on Cooper Avenue, told him a year ago that the site would be a homeless shelter and “there was nothing we can do about it.”
The coalition leader asserted that despite the construction company changing the building permit twice, from office to transient lodging, and then continuing construction under “false pretenses,” DOB still green-lighted the project.
“This building is illegal,” he said. “Everything they’ve done here is illegal.”
Papa added that Holden had suggested the site at 16-16 Summerfield Street in Ridgewood to the city as a possible shelter location, but officials allegedly turned it down.
Weeks later, DHS announced both Cooper Avenue and Summerfield Street properties –– which are both owned by Wilner –– would become homeless shelters, he said.
Papa called for an investigation by the city comptroller, district attorney, attorney general and Department of Investigation into DHS and DOB for their procurement and approval procedures.
“We also want an investigation into the connection between Mayor de Blasio, Liberty One and Michael Wilner,” he said.
Rather than a shelter, Papa said the area needs more affordable housing, senior housing, daycares and schools. He noted that District 24 is 4,000 classroom seats short.
“De Blasio’s Turning the Tide plan isn’t turning any tide, the only thing it’s turning is a profit,” he said. “It’s producing huge profits for the mayor’s corrupt real estate developers and campaign donors.”
Guardian Angels founder and radio show host Curtis Sliwa supported protesters against the Maspeth homeless shelter three years ago.
Sliwa claimed shelters don’t give homeless people services with job training, job placement or assistance with alcohol or drug addiction.
“All the city wants to do is shove them down your throats with no remedy, no relief, no solution,” he said. “You know deep in your heart and soul that this mayor has it in for Glendale, Middle Village and Maspeth.
“Keep your battle going, fight the good fight,” Sliwa added. “You’re not just fighting for your neighbors, your children and senior citizens, you’re fighting for the soul of New York City.”
A DHS spokesperson said in a statement that “homelessness doesn’t discriminate.” It impacts all communities across the five boroughs, including this community district, where there are currently no shelters to serve New Yorkers falling on hard times, the spokesperson said.
“We look forward to providing these vital resources, including shelter and employment services, to hard-working New Yorkers experiencing homelessness from Queens,” the spokesperson said, “and are confident that, working together with neighbors and elected officials, we will make this the best experience it can be for those individuals as they get back on their feet.”