New York Solidarity Network, a State-Level Mini-AIPAC, Supported by a Sam Bankman-Fried Collaborator

By Celia Bernhardt | cbernhardt@queensledger.com

New York Solidarity Network, a 501(c)(4) founded in 2021 to support pro-Israel candidates for New York’s state legislature, was gifted $200,000 from Keenan Lantz — a figure in the network of disgraced crypto-mogul-turned-fraudster Sam Bankman-Fried. Top officials from the group seem to be financially cozy with Lantz in multiple ways, according to documents from 2022. 

NYSN is back in the news after New York Focus reported that the newly-registered Solidarity PAC, set to spend in New York’s Democratic state legislature primaries, is operated by top NYSN officials. Solidarity PAC is backing nine candidates — incumbents and challengers alike — running against Democratic Socialists of America and Working Families Party picks. Seven of those races are in New York City; one is in Queens (Assembly District 37) and two are in Brooklyn (ADs 50 and 56).

NYSN worked to sway Democratic primaries in 2022. The group’s officials (listed either on the group’s website or its most recent documents) include Gary Ginsberg, described as a personal friend of Benjamin Netanyahu in the Israeli prime minister’s memoir; Republican operative Nathan Parsons-Schwarz, who now doubles as a Solidarity PAC official; and Republican political strategist Tyler Deaton. Both groups have been described as state-level versions of AIPAC, but unlike Solidarity PAC, NYSN’s 501(c)(4) structure prevents any direct donations to candidates and allows its donors to remain anonymous. It should be clear, in the end, how much money Solidarity PAC is raising for these upcoming primaries — traditional PACs disclose their giving. It’s less clear exactly how much money NYSN helped to usher into the political sphere in 2022, or will in this cycle. NYSN memberships cost $1,000, and members are asked to contribute at least $5,000 to endorsed candidates and causes. Jewish Currents reported that individuals that work for, hosted fundraisers for, or have been publicly identified as supportive of NYSN together donated about $45,000 to state-level candidates nationwide in 2022; NYSN itself reported spending $270,857 on “direct and indirect political campaign activities” that year.

Of the nearly two million in revenue NYSN raked in in 2022, $200,000 was a gift from Keenan Lantz’s FTX-affiliated group Prosperity Through Enterprise. 

PTE is a 501(c)(4) with no website or public profile to speak of, which helpfully defines its mission on a 990 form as “inspiring communities to prosper via enterprise.” Though it didn’t feature heavily in Bankman-Fried’s trial, PTE was listed in court documents as an organization under the influence or direction of the Bankman-Fried brothers. It’s one in a complex web of foundations surrounding former cryptocurrency company FTX’s scandals — where ringleader Sam Bankman-Fried illegally spent $8 billion from unwitting customers’ deposits on political donations and private purchases. 

Bankman-Fried and his collaborators directed huge sums of money — including those stolen customer funds — to political organizations and candidates on both sides of the aisle in an attempt to amass political power. To cover their tracks, they moved money through a web of affiliated foundations and created an illegal straw donor scheme where funds were sent under different FTX employee’s names. Lantz was an active member of a small group chat where those straw donations were coordinated, and processed paperwork for such political donations under FTX employee’s names in his role at FTX-affiliated Guarding Against Pandemics.

A representative for Lantz did not respond to requests for comment. 

A NYSN representative declined to comment on the $200,000 gift from Lantz, writing that they don’t “discuss individual donors.” 

Two top NYSN officials — Deaton and Parsons-Schwarz — had more business with Lantz that year, it seems. 

American Unity Fund, a conservative pro-LGBT group where Tyler Deaton and Nathan Parsons-Schwarz serve as senior advisor and director of operations, received a $300,000 grant from PTE. And a group named Allegiance Strategies LLC — the same name as a public affairs firm that Deaton and Parsons-Schwarz operate — was compensated over $500,000 by PTE for consulting services. 

Deaton and Parsons-Schwarz’s LLC, though, is based in the DC area; PTE’s document lists an Allegiance Strategies with a New Hampshire PO box address (the same PO box that the document lists for Lantz himself). A search for “Allegiance Strategies” in New Hampshire’s business search database yields no results. Neither Deaton, Parsons-Schwarz, nor a representative for Lantz responded to requests for comment or questions about whether these two LLCs are one in the same. 

If they are, that would mean 43% of Lantz’s $2.37 million in expenses for 2022 went towards projects under Deaton and Parsons-Schwarz’s oversight.

The vast majority of PTE’s remaining expenses — $1.3 million — went towards Defending America Together, another FTX-affilliated group that spent huge on Republican candidates in 2022.

Multiple outlets have noted that NYSN and Solidarity PAC, focused on influencing the outcome of Democratic primaries, have some notable Republican and corporate influence. Jewish Currents wrote about NYSN’s place in a larger trend of bipartisan collaboration to prevent Democratic critics of Israel from winning primaries. New York Focus noted that real estate giant Hal Fetner — CEO of Fetner properties and executive board member of the Real Estate Board of New York — is listed as having operational control of Solidarity PAC. 

One investigative journalist, Teddy Schleifer, alleges a far more direct connection between the FTX web and Tyler Deaton in particular; he’s written repeatedly that insider sources have told him Deaton guided former FTX executive Ryan Salame’s political giving (which included giving millions in stolen funds to American Prosperity Alliance, a conservative group that gave $380,000 to PTE in the same year). 

Deaton did not respond to requests for comment.

LIC Rallies Around Queensbridge Composting Site

By Celia Bernhardtcbernhardt@queensledger.com 

Credit: Celia Bernhardt

Elected officials, activists, and students congregated under the Queensboro bridge Friday morning to rally against the impending closure of a composting site near NYCHA’s Queensbridge Houses. 

Environmental nonprofit Big Reuse has operated the large-scale community composting site on a Parks Department lease since 2017. The lot was an illegal garbage site with 40 dumpsters of demolition and construction waste from a private contractor prior to the composting project, which went on to win the title of small scale composter of the year in 2020 from the US Composting Council. 

Now, Parks is looking to evict Big Reuse from the site by June 30. They plan to use it as a lot for agency parking and three large storage containers as their employees work to revamp the nearby Baby Queensbridge Park.

Big Reuse Executive Director Justine Green said the plan “makes no sense.” He argued that Parks could place storage containers in nearby existing staff parking lots.

“They have space!” Green said, motioning towards a nearby area. “When you walk and leave, you’ll see 22,000 square feet of parking that’s full of personal staff parking…They’re saying they need to kick us off so their staff can drive to work.”

In response to a request for comment, a Parks representative reiterated that Big Reuse will have access to the space through June, and said that the department will begin its construction process in the fall. 

“While we support composting and recognize the important work Big Reuse does, we look forward to executing our vision for this space to enhance the neighborhood’s quality of life, including the nearby NYCHA complex,” the representative said via email. 

The rally drew a crowd of students, activists, and electeds. Credit: Celia Bernhardt

Queens Council Members Julie Won and Shekar Krishnan were among the elected officials at the rally. State Assembly candidate Claire Valdez, running on the DSA ticket to represent Western Queens, also attended. Speeches over the course of the hour emphasized the positive climate impacts of composting, explaining that reducing landfill means reducing the release of methane into the atmosphere. 

“Compost cools the planet by putting carbon back into the ground, continuing the cycle of life, instead of polluting our air and atmosphere, communities,” Big Reuse compost educator Gil Lopez said. “Big Reuse supports dozens of greening groups and hundreds of activities. Without a space to operate out of, all these groups and activities will lose all that support.”

It’s not the first time Big Reuse has faced down challenges from the city. 

Parks threatened the compost site with eviction in 2020, citing the same reason of needing space for parking and equipment for Baby Queensbridge renovations — despite that project being in the planning stage at the time. City Council members, advocates, and Big Reuse staff and supporters rallied against the decision; Parks later reversed course and extended the organization’s stay under the bridge. 

Then in November 2023, along with a slate of budget cuts, the Adams administration announced it was cutting all $3 million in funding that community composting programs had used to function. Since the cuts went into effect at the beginning of 2024, private donations have helped keep Big Reuse and its community composting partners afloat. 

“We’ve kept three people on staff at the New York City Compost Project,” Lopez said, referring to a composting network the organization hosts. “We used to have 19, now we have three. So we’re able to manage this composting site at a greatly reduced capacity.”

What’s in it for Queensbridge? 

Among the ralliers was Long Island City local Lashawn “Suga Ray” Marston, founder of a community organization called Transform America. A former Queensbridge resident, his family still lives in the houses.

Ray, for his part, is a big proponent of Big Reuse, and thinks the group should be able to stay put. But he thinks the Queensbridge community at large might feel ambivalent towards the composting site. 

“The great majority of people in Queensbridge, I think, don’t really know what’s going on back here,” he said. “So therefore, they don’t know how important it is.” 

Suga Ray speaks with a fellow activist. Credit: Celia Bernhardt

On top of that, Ray reported hearing plenty of concerns from his Queensbridge neighbors about parking. Though the planned lot would be for Parks vehicles only, Ray said he thinks some residents aren’t aware of that restriction — and even if they are, the prospect of increased competition for street spots as park renovations begin might sway them in favor of the lot.

Ray is sympathetic to those concerns. “Some people sometimes have to park far away and take an Uber,” he said. “That’s insane.” 

Still, he argued that the compost is too important to go, and that Parks should find other vacant spaces in the neighborhood for their purposes. He also hopes that, if they’re able to secure enough funding, Big Reuse will be able to reach out more frequently to NYCHA residents. 

“[Residents] want parking because they don’t understand the importance of compost. So we need more education, because not only does it go to feed gardens throughout the city — food, and stuff like that — but it can benefit the health of people right here in Queensbridge” he said. “If we can find a way to deepen the relationship, to educate people[…]then people will be more inclined to fight for it, as opposed to saying, ‘No, we want parking.’”

Queensbridge’s community garden, like many around the city, has benefited from community compost deliveries. When it comes to residents’ health, composting can minimize the harmful effects of lead in city soil. 

Assembly candidate Claire Valdez, fourth from right, standing with fellow protesters. Credit: Celia Bernhardt

Gil Lopez, a compost educator with Big Reuse, explained that humic acids released in the composting process can bind with lead molecules, making the toxin less bioavailable in the produce grown from the garden — so when community members eat those fruits and vegetables, they’re less likely to absorb any of the lead they were grown in. 

That’s important, because NYCHA residents arguably have enough lead to worry about. The majority of the city’s public housing was built before lead paint was outlawed: amid plummeting funds for maintenance and agency coverups of the true extent of the issue, families have suffered the health tolls of lead exposure in the home. Queensbridge’s proximity to the Ravenswood smoke stacks adds another layer of built-in environmental health hazards for the community. 

“We need Big Reuse here,” Ray said. “But I think if we’re keeping it here, we got to do a better job of outreach and building a relationship between this organization and the residents of Queensbridge — and do tours back here for the young people and for the seniors, right? Let’s figure out how to have regular community engagement.”

Community in Anguish After 19-Year-Old Fatally Shot by NYPD

By Celia Bernhardt | cbernhardt@queensledger.com

A 19-year-old Bengali Ozone Park resident named Win Rozario called 911 on Wednesday, March 27 seeking help while suffering from mental distress. He was fatally shot by the police officers who responded to the call. 

The NYPD alleges that Rozario threatened those police officers with scissors. 

Rozario’s death has sparked mourning and urgent calls for change across the Bengali and Bangladeshi community in Queens. 

The NYPD’s description of the circumstances that led to the 19-year-old’s fatal shooting have a key difference with the recollection provided by Rozario’s 17-year-old brother, Ushto. NYPD Chief of Patrol John Chell, at a press conference, said that officers were attempting to take Rozario “into custody to get him help” when he began to approach them wielding a pair of scissors. The officers deployed Tasers in response before Rozario’s mother “came to the aid of her son in order to help him,” according to Chell, and “accidentally knocked the Tasers out of his body.” 

What happened next is where accounts differ. 

In an interview with the New York Times, Ushto Rozario said that his mother was still hugging and effectively restraining Rozario when the officers shot him. Ushto told the Times that Rozario “couldn’t really do anything” while his mother was holding him, and said that the shooting was unnecessary. Chell, in contrast, said that Rozario “came at” the officers again with scissors. “They had no choice but to defend themselves, discharging their firearms,” Chell said at the press conference. 

Ushto said that officers shot Rozario six times; the NYPD has not made any statements regarding the number of shots. 

“Everything I described to you is on a body-worn camera,” Chell said. 

As of Wednesday, the NYPD has not yet released the body camera footage.

Signs from a vigil for Win Rozario.

The New York Attorney General’s Office of Special Investigations announced on Tuesday that it had opened an investigation into Rozario’s death.

“OSI assesses every incident reported to it where a police officer or a peace officer, including a corrections officer, may have caused the death of a person by an act or omission,” the Attorney General’s website stated. “If OSI’s assessment indicates an officer may have caused the death, OSI proceeds to conduct a full investigation of the incident.”

Rozario’s death has reignited calls from some elected officials and community organizations for a change in how the city responds to mental health emergencies. 

“Win Rozario made a call for help and it cost him his life,” Council Member Lynn Schulman wrote in a public statement. “Our system failed him.”

Schulman highlighted the Behavioral Health Emergency Assistance Response Division Program (commonly called B-Heard) as one of multiple “life saving initiatives that enable mental health clinicans to respond to emergency mental health situations,” rather than police officers, arguing that the program is in need of additional funding in order to prevent fatal situations like Rozario’s. 

Cityline Ozone Park Civilian Patrol, a community volunteer organization, released a statement which also included calls for additional B-HEARD funding. 

“We need a stronger partnership between law enforcement, mental health professionals, and community organizations,” COPCP’s statement read.

Lal Morich led one of two vigils in Diversity Plaza.

On Friday at 5 p.m., two competing vigils took place in Jackson Heights’ Diversity Plaza. 

The event was spearheaded by Lal Morich, an organization which describes itself on Instagram as “a Bangladeshi anti imperialist diaspora org in support of the New Democratic Movement in Bangladesh.” The group’s flier for the vigil spread on social media platforms.

Two groups clustered at the event. One, led by Lal Morich organizers, carried a hand-painted banner depicting Rozario’s image, a candle, and a pair of scissors behind the words “Say His Name: Win Rozario.” The other group’s members carried a printed banner for the Probashi Bengali Christian Association, a social organization serving Bengali Christians in the tri-state region. They held up posters of Rozario with the words “we want justice” and arrived with their own sound system.

“I left my country to have a better life here,” one speaker with the PBCA said to the crowd. “We all are very angry, very sad. We just want justice. We’re not here to criticize against anyone. Who knows? I don’t want… my family to be the next one, you don’t want your family to be the next one.”

Another speaker, Pastor James Roy of the United Bengali Lutheran Church, encouraged the crowd to pray for the Rozario family.  

PBCA at the vigil.

The PBCA’s cluster delivered speeches for approximately twenty minutes before Lal Morich activists began booing when one speaker described the NYPD, as an organization, as “brave.” 

“He got killed by the police! He got killed by the NYPD!” one organizer shouted at the PBCA. 

Both groups alternately chanted “we want justice” at each other. Lal Morich-led attendees then began drumming and leading new chants before delivering their own speeches. PCBA members continued speaking, the two groups battling for volume beside each other.  

“[The NYPD doesn’t] care about mental health. Win needed mental health help. He got brutalized. He got shot and killed by cowards,” one Lal Morich organizer said in a speech. “They do this to countless other teenagers, countless other elders, young people. We don’t stand for this. We cannot tell lies to our community, we cannot tell lies to the next generation that the NYPD are brave.”

The vigil continued for over an hour after that as the crowd mourned Rozario. 

Pastor Roy later told the Ledger that Rozario and his family were parishoners of his at the United Bengali Lutheran Church. 33-year-old Steve Roy, a member of the church, said the same.

“Since they’ve been here, they’ve been going to our church. I know their family, I know him, his brother, mother, everybody,” Roy said. 

“NYPD’s been doing this for decades,” Roy continued. “Killing people because they feel like it, or maybe they’re scared. I don’t know if a scissor warrants six bullets in somebody. This is not the first time — this happens everywhere, in every state…It comes from the infrastructure, right? If you have a corrupt infrastructure, this is the reality of your system.”

As for the tension between the groups at the Plaza, Roy said that the entire ordeal was “not the perfect response” to Rozario’s death. 

“There should’ve been a vigil that was orchestrated by the people who are intimately close with the family,” he said.  

A Lal Morich organizer declined to speak with the Ledger.

Attendees of both vigils mourned Rozario’s passing.

Multiple Pedestrian Deaths Across Boro in One Week Spark Mourning and Protest Plans

By Celia Bernhardt | cbernhardt@queensledger.com

It’s been a deadly week for pedestrians in Queens: at least three were fatally struck by a vehicle in separate incidents. 

On Wednesday, March 13, eight-year-old Bayron Palmoni Arroyo and 10-year-old Bradley Palomino were struck by a 52-year-old with a history of reckless driving. The two brothers were walking with their mother in a crosswalk at 31st Ave and 100th St in East Elmhurst when a pickup truck hit them. Bayron died at the scene. 

The driver, Jose Barcia, is being charged with criminally negligent homicide, failure to yield to a pedestrian, failure to exercise due care, and driving at an unsafe speed. He pleaded not guilty to the homicide charge, and was let out on supervised release. Streetsblog NYC reported that Barcia’s license currently remains valid, and that no restrictions have been placed on his use of a car. ABC7 reported that Barcia has been ordered to return to court June 24. 

Just a day before, a fatal crash occured in Middle Village. 43-year-old Natalia Garcia-Valencia was crossing 80th st when she was struck, and later died at Elmhurst Hospital. 38-year-old Mitchell Roderick, a Long Island resident, made a right turn that is illegal for trucks not making local deliveries, Streetsblog NYC reported. He was driving a Department of Environmental Protection truck. 

Then on Thursday, March 14, 58-year-old Elisa Maria Bellere lost her life. The Flushing resident was jogging in Bayside when she was hit by a 73-year-old man in an SUV on the Clearview Expressway service road. She was later pronounced dead at New York-Presbyterian Hospital Queens. QNS reported that it was unclear whether or not the car had a green light at the time. 

An “emergency” march for pedestrian safety is planned for March 22 at 4 p.m. at PS110, 43-18 97th Place. State Senator Jessica Ramos, Assemblymember Ron Kim, Families for Safe Streets, Transportation Alternatives, and other civic organizations are leading the march, titled Queens Children’s March for Safe Streets. 

“There is a crisis of traffic violence in the World’s Borough,” reads a description for the event from Transportation Alternatives. “Join us as our communities are ringing the alarm bells, we cannot allow anyone else to be killed on our streets.”

$10M for QueensLink Included in State Senate Proposed Budget; Feds Award Competitor QueensWay $117M

By Celia Bernhardt | cbernhardt@queensledger.com

Proponents of QueensLink secured a victory this week, with a request for $10 million to fund an environmental review for the project in the State Senate’s new budget proposal. 

They’ve also been dealt a blow: just today, the city announced it obtained $117 million in federal funding for a competing plan, QueensWay. 

The QueensLink plan would reactivate the Rockaway Beach Branch, a right-of-way that has been left unused for the past 60 years, using it to extend the M line past Rego Park into the Rockaways. Supporters of the plan argue increased train access is essential for Southeast Queens, an area severely underserved by transit with some of the longest commutes in the nation. The campaign has long faced stiff competition from the New York City Economic Development-backed QueensWay plan, which would develop the right-of-way entirely into parkland.

After QueensWay received a $35 million pledge from Mayor Eric Adams in September 2022, MTA officials, City Hall spokespeople, and elected officials repeatedly denied that the project would preclude a train line reactivation. In the MTA’s October 2023 20-year-needs assessment, however, where the QueensLink proposal was given particularly low marks, QueensWay was cited as one of the reasons.

The State Senate budget proposal follows a two and a half month letter-writing campaign QueensLink organized, urging their supporters to pressure their state and city representatives to support the rail reactivation. QueensLink Chief Design Officer Andrew Lynch said 2,696 letters have been sent in total since the campaign’s launch in January, with another 65 sent out just in the past few hours since news broke increased funding for QueensWay. 

Lynch said that six state senate representatives and seven state assemblymembers signed on to support QueensLink in February.

“Notably, we were not included in the Assembly budget, despite having more support in the Assembly, which is weird,” Lynch said. 

The State Senate’s proposed $10 million for QueensLink is tucked into their modifications to Governor Hochul’s budget for MTA capital projects. It sits alongside a $20 million request for Hudson River Line Metro-North resiliency. The two proposed changes would bring that section of Hochul’s budget from $68 million to $98 million. 

Also included in the document was a note calling into question the MTA’s budgeting process. 

“The Senate has concerns with the increasing high-cost of conducting studies for MTA projects,” the proposal reads. “The Senate calls on the MTA to do more to reduce expenses on projects, as well as increase transparency to the public as to how public resources are being utilized.”

Hochul, the Senate and the Assembly must work out a consensus by the April 1 budget deadline. 

When asked if he was optimistic about what the State Senate budget proposal meant for QueensLink in the final State, budget, Lynch said he didn’t know. 

“You never know about these things. I know Albany. It’s going to come down to one person saying one thing and one person saying another, and they just have to agree on it. And sometimes it’s a handshake,” Lynch said. “It’s not a science up there.”

Controversy in Maspeth Over 15-Bed Asylum Seeker Shelter

By Celia Bernhardt | cbernhardt@queensledger.com

Police stand by the synagogue as around a dozen Queens residents gather in protest nearby. Credit: Celia Bernhardt

A new 15-cot shelter for male asylum seekers opened on March 7 at 66-64 Grand Avenue in Maspeth, a historic building that formerly operated as a synagogue. The building sits just off the Long Island Expressway service road, a few doors down from a local Key Foods. 

The 1920s building, previously called the Maspeth Jewish Center, has not hosted an active congregation for decades. The Rabbinical Seminary of America (also called Yeshiva Choftez Chaim of Queens) obtained the building in 2017 after the Maspeth Jewish Center’s board agreed to sell it to them. RSA ran a preschool in the building from September 2023 until one week before they signed the contract to establish the shelter, according to a representative. 

The RSA and other religious groups willing to operate similar shelters will be reimbursed at a rate of $65 per person per night, up to $35,500 per month, according to a letter from the city and New York Disaster Interfaith Services. The shelter will host asylum seekers from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., with a curfew in place from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. Security will be present throughout its operating hours. 

Some Maspeth residents have expressed their outrage at the news through Facebook groups and a small gathering in protest last Friday. 

Councilman Rob Holden took to X on March 6 to criticize the move. “Our office is aware of a notice that @NYCMayorsOffice sent for a proposal to house 15 migrants at the Synagogue located at 66-64 Grand Avenue in Maspeth, starting tomorrow,” Holden wrote. “We’ve spoken directly with the Rabbi, who denies this and says no contract was signed.”

The Queens Ledger spoke to a representative from RSA who claimed that Rabbi Glazer — the Rabbi that Holden referenced — did not outright deny the plans to Holden. The representative said that at the time of Holden and Rabbi Glazer’s conversation, a decision was still pending and the contract had not yet been signed. Later that day, however, the contract was signed. 

The representative also explained that the preschool’s recent closure was due to an inability to gather approvals from city agencies in time to meet certain deadlines from the Department of Education, which proceeded to cut funding to the program. The preschool has since merged with another already-funded program. 

Holden blasted the move as “completely unacceptable” in a later post on X.

Credit: Charlie Finnerty

The shelter is the only one operating in Maspeth, but Community District 5 houses a few others. A homeless shelter at 78-16 Cooper Avenue in Glendale accommodates up to 200 single men, and a smaller family shelter sits on Summerfield Street at Wyckoff Avenue in Ridgewood. Both of these shelters only accommodate homeless New Yorkers, not asylum seekers. A faith-based shelter for asylum seekers, similar to the new location in Maspeth, opened in Ridgewood Presbyterian Church in the past month according to CB5 District Manager Gary Giordano. 

“I don’t think there have been any problems there,” Giordano said of the Church shelter. 

Giordano said he knows of very few complaints with regard to the Summerfield Street location, whereas some issues have been brought up with the Cooper Avenue shelter. 

Giordano also recalled that Sacred Heart Church in Glendale used to operate an overnight homeless shelter years ago. “They would get a meal, be able to take a shower, be able to sleep in a warm place, get breakfast in the morning,” he said. 

One of the questions Giordano has posed to the mayor’s office, he said, is what the men taking refuge in the Maspeth shelter overnight will do with their day. 

“In their case it’s hard, because a lot of them probably want to work, but they don’t have proper work authorization, from what I know,” Giordano said. “People usually aren’t lazy.”

Susan Kohl is the sole board member of the Maspeth Jewish Center who still resides in Maspeth, and attended the synagogue growing up while it was still active. She visited the inside of the shelter on Friday. 

“I went in there angry, and I came out with a little bit of understanding,” she said. 

Kohl said the inside of the building looked completely different than how she remembered it, with amenities that were clearly built to operate a preschool, along with some — namely, showers — that seemed to be an investment in the building’s capacity to act as a shelter. She noted the presence of classrooms, child-safe seats to use on buses, and bathrooms designed for children’s use. She also said that the building also seemed perfectly well-suited to act as a shelter, equipped with showers, a sprinkler system, supplies, and security at the front desk. 

Although she no longer doubts the building’s capacity to house asylum seekers, Kohl still doesn’t fully agree with the decision. 

“I think it still doesn’t belong there, and I think it’s sort of not fair because they [RSA] don’t live here, they don’t work here,” Kohl said. She added that she thinks many in the community might be scared by the presence of the shelter — and that she herself was initially scared as well. 

“I was up and down the avenue all day today, I didn’t see one,” Kohl said, referring to the asylum seekers. “They would stick out. I would notice.” 

A crowd of about a dozen protestors gathered outside the shelter on Friday afternoon. 27-year-old Deanna Andrea, a Jamaica, Queens resident, organized the gathering. 

“Where I live, I see the effects of how different people who aren’t from here legally per se are causing certain issues,” Andrea said. 

A few drivers passing by the scene rolled down their windows to shout out their opposition to the shelter. 

About a dozen gathered in protest on Friday. Credit: Celia Bernhardt

Over 100 Seniors, Advocates Rally for Increased Funding to Queens Senior Centers

By Celia Bernhardt | cbernhardt@queensledger.com

Sunnyside Community Services seniors. Credit: Celia Bernhardt

Senior advocacy organization LiveOn gathered with over 100 older adults at Queens Borough Hall on Wednesday, March 6 to rally in support of increased funding for aging services across the city and state and denounce the Adams administration’s proposal of $18 million in cuts to over 300 Older Adult Centers throughout the city. 

The gathering took place ahead of the City Council’s Committee on Aging’s preliminary budget hearing on March 8, where advocates and seniors shared testimonies against the proposed cuts. 

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, Assemblymember Steven Raga and a representative of Councilmember Shekar Krishnan were present at the gathering, along with

Queens Community House, Sunnyside Community Services, Alpha Phi Alpha, Allen AME, India Home Inc., and other older adult centers. Seniors in the crowd represented their centers with pride on their t-shirts, some carrying signs with their demands. 

Associate Executive Director of Older Adult Services at Queens Community House Anne Foerg was among the speakers in the atrium. Foerg elaborated on the challenges facing service providers, reminding the crowd that the total senior population has seen a significant expansion across the country. At Queens Community House, she explained, recent contracts from the city have resulted in an increase in caseloads and a stagnant salary for support staff that hasn’t kept pace with inflation, leading to difficulty retaining qualified employees. 

“The intensity of older adults’ needs are also increasing,” Foerg said. “Retirement incomes aren’t keeping pace with cost of living. The adult children of many older adults are leaving the city to find a better quality of life, and that means our older adult neighbors are losing a very important part of their support network.”

Foerg called for an investment of $20 million from the city, which was met with resounding cheers from the room. 

“We know every human being deserves dignity from birth to death,” Foerg continued. “And that’s why we raise our voices today for older adults, just as we have to remember they have raised their voices for us throughout the entire course of their lifetime. They deserve more, not less.”

The crowd broke into chants of “we want more!” before the borough president took the stage. 

“I want to thank each and every one of you because as the borough president, I stand on your shoulders,” Richards said. “Many of you who have sacrificed to pave the way for me to be here, whether you know it or not. If you didn’t know, now you know.”

Members of senior centers also delivered speeches; Usha Mehta of India Home Inc. spoke about how the center impacted her life. 

“During COVID, it was so rough, but it was India Home who took care of us and provided us with each and every need. India Home staff called us every day to ask ‘how are you doing?’ That was what we got and that kept us alive,” Mehta said. “But to give these services, what do you need? Funding.”

84-year-old Rosemary Whaley, a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, said it was important for her to come out to the rally. “It’s good to find out who’s going to support the senior centers and how we can get more money” she said. 

“Right now, we’re kind of hurting for certain things, especially transportation, because they took it away from us right before Christmas,” Whaley said, referencing transportation provider Cathay’s sudden reduction in services to the Alpha Phi Alpha center.

Whaley explained how crucial it is for her and her friends to access the center. 

“A lot of us, even if we have people at home, they don’t give us the attention that we really need,” Whaley said. “And just being there with people our own age, we know what we need, we know how to support each other. We can laugh, we can joke, we can get sick of each other, and that’s okay because that’s part of life.”

 

15-Bed Shelter Opens in Maspeth Synagogue

By Celia Bernhardt | cbernhardt@queensledger.com 

Credit: Charlie Finnerty

A new 15-bed shelter for male asylum seekers opens today at 66-64 Grand Avenue in Maspeth, located at a historic building that formerly operated as a synagogue. 

Built in the 1920s, the building has not had an active congregation for decades. The Rabbinical Seminary of America (also called Yeshiva Choftez Chaim of Queens) took over the building in 2017. The organization ran a preschool in the building from September 2023 until one week ago, according to a representative. 

The location is close to a local Key Foods. The news has already begun to draw outraged responses from residents in Facebook groups.

Councilman Rob Holden took to X to decry the move by the city. “Our office is aware of a notice that @NYCMayorsOffice sent for a proposal to house 15 migrants at the Synagogue located at 66-64 Grand Avenue in Maspeth, starting tomorrow,” Holden wrote. “We’ve spoken directly with the Rabbi, who denies this and says no contract was signed.”

The Queens Ledger spoke to a representative from Yeshiva Choftez Chaim who contradicted the Councilman’s post, saying that the Rabbi did not outright deny the plans to Holden. The representative said that at the time of Holden and the Rabbi’s conversation, a decision was still pending and the contract had not yet been signed. Later that day, however, the contract was signed. 

The representative said that the shelter will have security during its operating hours, which are between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. They also noted that the people who originally built the historic house of worship were all immigrants. 

As for the preschool’s recent closure, a representative of the organization explained that this was due to an inability to gather approvals from multiple city agencies in time to meet certain deadlines from the Department of Education, which proceeded to cut funding to the program. The preschool has since merged with another already-funded program. 

This is a developing story and will be updated with information as we learn more.

This story has been edited to reflect a clarification from a source.

After Transportation Cut, Queens Senior Centers Worry for Health of Members Left at Home

By Celia Bernhardt | cbernhardt@queensledger.com

Allen AME’s center in South Ozone Park. Credit: Celia Bernhardt

“You go to some centers, it’s either bingo all day long or whatever. We’re not like that here,” member Donna Johnson says of Allen AME’s senior center on Rockaway Boulevard in South Ozone Park.

On a Monday morning at the center, music from a radio spills out into the hallway. While seniors play pool in one room, they follow along with an exercise video in another. Members say that puzzles, jewelry making, sewing, and hot meals are just a few of the other benefits they can rely on at the center. 

“We like to keep active. Most of the people here are retired people — you worked all your life, you want to come out and socialize with other people,” Johnson says. 

But in recent months, at least 10 seniors in the lively community have been noticeably missing. Johnson says these members had been reliant on rides from Cathay, a transportation provider that abruptly reduced its services two months ago. 

A quiet change in a contract and an apparent breakdown in communication has left approximately 100 seniors without rides to and from Older Adult Centers in Southeast Queens. Now, seniors and staff alike say they’re worried that those who can no longer make it to the centers could suffer cognitive and physical decline. 

“Some people were getting early signs of dementia,” Veronica Ralph-Munro, a member the Rockaway Boulevard center, said. “That’s why people who knew them wanted them to come out…they’re gonna decline more because they’re stuck in a house.”

A bullet point and budget shortfall 

Cathay Express Transportation, contracted by the city’s Department for the Aging, announced a sudden reduction in the services at the end of last year for senior centers including Allen AME and Alpha Phi Alpha. While rides to and from medical appointments and errands are still available through the provider, trips between senior centers and homes — which scores of seniors had relied on — are not. 

THE CITY reported last Thursday that the change can be attributed in part to a bullet point in an addendum to a request for proposal. In previous years, regular rides between centers and seniors’ homes were a standard duty for transportation contractors assigned to serve OACs in a given region. The addendum, however, stated that such rides were “not the intent” of the program. “Standalone” rides to medical appointments and errands, or group day trips for senior centers, were to be the focus. 

Those were the terms of a service that Cathay began providing in July 2023. But for the first six months of the contract, things seemed to be operating as they always had for Allen AME and Alpha Phi Alpha. 

Alpha Phi Alpha Director Melissa Marcus said that Cathay sent flyers detailing their services at the beginning of the term. The flyers didn’t mention home-to-center transport one way or another, citing only standalone rides. Still, she said, Cathay didn’t hesitate to offer those rides when asked. 

“We called them about doing pickups…Didn’t have a problem,” Marcus said. “Different days, different times, they were very good with scheduling everything.”

Three months into the contract, Cathay requested that the list of Alphi Phi Alpha seniors receiving daily rides be reduced from 40 to 20, and that seniors reimburse Cathay for rides they had taken over the previous three months. Marcus said she complied with the first request, but flatly refused the latter, offering to brainstorm other solutions with Cathay. 

The next indication that something had gone wrong was the massive service reduction itself. 

Marcus said she received three phone calls in the course of one Friday afternoon before Christmas: the first stating that home-to-center services were ending, the second stating that the first call had been a misunderstanding, and the third reiterating the message of the first call. 

Executive Director of Allen AME Community Non-Profit Programs Donna Atmore-Dolly, meanwhile, received an email on January 5 titled “Dept. of Aging Budget Constraints.” 

“We regret to inform you that due to budgetary constraints imposed by the Department of Aging, we are currently experiencing limitations in accommodating trips for our senior members,” the email read. “Despite our meticulous planning to ensure adequate funding throughout the year, we have unfortunately reached the end of our budget.”

Cathay did not respond to requests for comment from the Queens Ledger.  

DFTA representative Gregory Rose, in an email to the Queens Ledger, said that the amount of money in Cathay’s rate-based contract had been running out. “To make sure they could still provide the service as stated in the RFP, we discouraged use of travel to and from older adult facilities through Cathay and encouraged them to use alternative modes of transportation,” Rose wrote. 

“I just stay in my house” 

Johnson, Ralph-Munro, and multiple others agreed that at least 10 members had stopped coming in due to the lack of transportation. Still more have reduced the number of days per week they come in. 

“We miss their company. They’re important when we’re having discussions,” Ralph-Munro said.  

Program Manager Sabrina Marson agreed that the center’s numbers are lower because of the change, adding that the cold weather worsens matters for seniors facing the prospect of waiting outside for less-reliable transit options like city buses. 

Marcus reported similar numbers, estimating that 10 seniors at Alpha Phi Alpha have stopped showing up altogether. She shares the concerns of Allen AME seniors about mental decline. 

“I get a lot of seniors who tell me, ‘Thank you for providing these services because it’s helping me live longer,’” Marcus said. “So you kind of think when they’re not having the services, they’re deteriorating.”

Left to right: Donna, Evonne, Shirley, Veronica. Credit: Celia Bernhardt

The situation reminds Rockaway Boulevard member Evonne Valere of dark times in recent years. She attributes the death of her peers during the Covid-19 lockdown to the social isolation of staying at home. 

“So many people died during the pandemic because we couldn’t come out,” Valere said. 

Patricia Thomas has had a particularly difficult time getting to the Rockaway Boulevard center. She lives in Rosedale, far away from most other members, and often has to use Access-a-Ride — or, as she calls it, ‘stress-a-ride.’ On Monday morning, Thomas said, she waited an additional 20 minutes for a van to arrive after being told over the phone it would pick her up by 8:05. Previous commutes have been worse; Thomas says she was once driven to Far Rockaway after asking to go to the center.

“I get to the point when I get aggravated I just stay in my house,” Thomas said. 

What’s left

Both seniors and staff at Rockaway Boulevard said on Monday that they had not been aware that they were still able to request standalone rides — for group shopping trips from the center, doctor’s appointments, errands, and more — from Cathay. 

“No one had told us that yet, to be honest with you. This is my first time hearing that,” Marson, who began working at the center in January after Cathay’s service reduction, said. 

Meanwhile, Marcus reported receiving multiple calls from Cathay in the past two weeks reminding her that such rides were available. 

While standalone rides could be helpful, Marson says, the recurring daily rides to and from centers are the ones that really count. 

“It’s the daily ones that cost them more money,” she said. “You want to socialize with your friends, you want to come to the center and have fun, but you can’t come all the time because you can’t afford it.”

Members at Rockaway Boulevard agreed that even Access-a-Ride’s cost could add up to be a burden on seniors living on a fixed income. 

“Hopefully we can get our transportation, because it’s very important for us,” Rockaway Boulevard member Shirley Phillips said. “We need transportation. We need to come in and communicate with other seniors.” 

A Planned Rego Park Shelter is Drawing Detractors From Nearby and Faraway Neighborhoods

By Celia Bernhardt | cbernhardt@queensledger.com

Approximately 80 protesters gathered outside the Wyndham Hotel at 61-18 93rd St. on Feb. 18 to rally against the conversion of the hotel to a men’s homeless shelter. Two weeks earlier, on Feb. 4, a crowd came out to protest the same issue. 

The hotel sits just around the corner from where the Long Island Expressway and Queens Boulevard cross. 

Speeches by Queens residents and political figures at the most recent rally were punctuated by chants of “No more shelters!” Speakers stood in the back of a pickup truck in front of a backdrop of protest signs pasted to the hotel’s wall, one rally leader waving a large American flag. 

The rally was emceed by District Leader Hiram Monserrate, former city council member and state senator. Monserrate was expelled from the Senate in 2010 after being charged with assault, and later served 21 months in federal prison for a separate case of fraud. The East Elmhurst Corona Alliance hosted the event, along Rego Park United — an ad-hoc group of local residents collaborating with Monserrate and the Alliance, according to Rego Park resident and speaker at the rally Peter Kefalas.

A Rego Park resident named Stephanie who introduced herself as “Sunshine” said to the crowd that the shelter would be a disaster. 

“They claim they care. They do not. They are just dumping these homeless people here, there, and everywhere,” she said to the crowd. “They are profiting from these people’s trauma.”

Sheryl Fetik, a Rego Park resident and representative of Queens Community & Civic Alliance, urged protesters to sign online petitions against the shelter and talked about possible next steps while addressing the crowd.

“We may very well need to hire a lawyer and go to court,” Fetik said. “We may need to raise money to go to court.”

Credit: Celia Bernhardt

Community Board 6, which represents Rego Park, was first informed by the city’s Department of Social Services about the shelter conversion in October 2023. After communicating back and forth about the issue, DSS made the decision official at a Jan. 10 CB6 meeting. 

Although the shelter was originally set to open in March, Beers-Dimitriadis recently received word that that date has been pushed back to this coming May. 

“I’m always making it clear that the Board had no vote in this matter,” CB6 Chair Heather Beers-Dimitriadis said. “We have a lot of people who seem to think that we did. We have a lot of people who seem to think that we are fully supportive of the shelter. We are supportive of the goals of the shelter, and we are equally supportive of the need for this community to live its life uninterrupted, in a very safe fashion. And we really hope that the two can happen at the same time.”

Not everyone is convinced. 

“There’s two schools in the neighborhood. There’s shopping, there’s communities, there’s businesses. We can’t allow this. And nobody asked us,” Kefalas said. Protesters also emphasized the hotel’s proximity to Lost Battalion Hall, a recreation center which is currently closed for renovations. 

Apple Maps marks P.S. 139 as a half-mile walk from the Wyndham hotel, and P.S. 206 as a 0.4 mile walk. 

Community District 6 has no other homeless shelters, by the DSS’s standards. But there is another shelter set to open across the road from Wyndham, housed near the Rego Park Post Office. Operated by WestHab, the facility will include transitional housing specifically for family units, not single men. 

“We’ll be rallying against that one too,” Kefalas said. 

Beers-Dimitriadis said that CB6 was surprised to find out that WestHab’s facility did not fulfill the district’s obligation to DSS to house at least one homeless shelter. The primary difference that she understands between that facility and Wyndham is the populations the two locations serve. 

“I think to the public, it is a distinction without a difference,” she said. “Their goals are the same.”

Additional distinctions are that the transitional housing facility will have apartment-style accommodations, while the Wyndham shelter will use the hotel’s existing structure, mostly consisting of rooms with two beds.  

Credit: Celia Bernhardt

In lieu of a vote on Wyndham — community boards have no veto power on the matter of shelters — CB6 passed a resolution on Feb. 7 detailing a list of considerations it wants the city to take when opening the shelter. Those include a request that the two shelters-to-be share one Community Advisory Board, rather than operate separate ones, to ensure more thorough oversight of their combined presence in the neighborhood.

Dao Yin, a Flushing resident and current Democratic candidate for the state assembly who previously ran unsuccessful campaigns for Queens Borough President in 2020 and City Council in 2021, was among the speakers on Feb. 18.  

“No more shelters in Queens, in Brooklyn, in Bronx, in Staten Island, in Manhattan. No more shelters in this city,” Yin said. 

Chants of “Close the borders!” rang out after the speeches came to a close. 

Monserrate told the Queens Ledger that Yin’s disapproval of all additional shelters in the city was not the group’s official sentiment. 

“There’s a need for shelters,” Monserrate said. “What’s happening right now is an abuse and an oversaturation in this part of Queens. That’s our major issue: the oversaturation, one. And two, the homeless men. We don’t know who they are. A lot of them are formerly incarcerated.” 

While Wyndham will be the sole DSS-recognized homeless shelter in Community District 6, it is just across the Expressway from CD3, which houses East Elmhurst, Corona, Jackson Heights, and Elmhurst. Monserrate said that the area between Queens Boulevard and LaGuardia Airport, which includes CD3, currently has 15 shelters; the Queens Ledger could not independently verify that number. 

“It’s just saturated,” Kefalas said. “That’s why you’re seeing people coming from Elmhurst, East Elmhurst, Corona, LeFrak City, because they know we’re right on the border here where these neighborhoods literally interlock. And they know. We all shop at the same [shops] around here, we all eat, we use the same transportation. We’re intertwined. They know what’s going to happen. That’s why people are coming here even as far away as Brooklyn to stand with us to stop this.”

Credit: Celia Bernhardt

Beers-Dimitriadis said that a significant portion of protesters seemed to come from outside of Rego Park. 

“There are people who have come into our community from East Elmhurst and Corona, that don’t live here, that I think are here because they have genuine concerns with how decisions are made about shelters. I get it. But they don’t represent Rego Park/Forest Hills,” she said.

Beers-Dimitriadis said her read on the Rego Park/Forest Hills community is that it’s split into thirds on the issue. 

“One third has no idea it’s even happening. No matter how hard we’ve tried to reach out, no matter how many articles have been written in the paper, 10,000 posts on Facebook,” Beers-Dimitriadis said. Another third, she estimates, is supportive of it, and the remaining third is against it.  

“Our message is clear to the city of New York. We are sick of you dumping shelter after shelter,” Monserrate said. “Our city tax dollars are paying for it. And then no one’s even talking to us, the people. But today, the people are united.”

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