‘Listen, learn, react,’ CB5 says
By Jessica Meditz
In response to the stark impact Cooper Rapid Rehousing Center has had on Glendale and its surrounding residential neighborhoods, Queens Community Board 5 has formed a committee for homeless services.
At the board’s Executive Committee meeting on Nov. 2, they decided the new committee will take an active role in the community, meaning they plan to conduct fact finding inquiries, address concerns of residents, identify problems and find adequate solutions to those problems in collaboration with relevant government agencies and service providers.
At CB5’s monthly public meeting in October, it was noted that over one thousand 911 calls were made from the shelter since it opened in 2020. The shelter, located at 78-16 Cooper Avenue, next to Artistic Stitch, has a population of about 180 men.
Kathy Masi, a Glendale resident and regular attendee of Community Advisory Board meetings held by Westhab, the shelter’s provider, said that the misuse of 911 is draining the already depleted services needed by the community.
She added that she and other community members have tried to form a civil working relationship with Westhab, which was the case for a while — until things took a turn for the worse.
“We spent two years, maybe more, going from a toxic to a nontoxic relationship where these meetings were running beautifully and everything was going nicely, only to find out how much we were being lied to,” Masi said. “It was out of control.”
According to Masi, a local reporter was asked to leave the meeting by Westhab when it took place.
Westhab is required to do community outreach monthly by way of a community advisory board as per their contract with the city — and the provider selects who participates on it.
In late September, CBS News did an exclusive interview with a man residing at Cooper Rapid Rehousing Center at the time, who came forward with what occurs behind closed doors.
The former shelter resident, who remained anonymous, claimed that he had been assaulted on numerous occasions, that both drug use and drug dealing occur inside the shelter and that residents engage in sexual acts in public, behind the shelter.
The man reached out to Councilman Robert Holden for assistance, and has since been moved to another location.
It was reported by CBS News that the assaults against him were under investigation by the NYPD’s Hate Crime Task Force — being he identifies as queer.
“From the moment this shelter was forced on our community by [former] Mayor de Blasio despite being in a non-sensical location, Westhab has been dishonest and incompetent. What goes on at this shelter is harmful to our community and to the shelter residents themselves,” Holden said.
Holden also addressed the danger he believes the shelter imposes on children in the community especially, by visiting one of the neighboring schools, PS/IS 87.
In a tweet, Holden revealed that he’d heard from parents and neighbors that a homeless individual had been harassing students of the school, along with residents.
In June, two women were assaulted on Myrtle Avenue in Glendale by a resident of the homeless shelter at the time. The perpetrator was a resident at the shelter for ten days following the assaults, and Westhab and the 104th Precinct never got together to catch him.
“We now have evidence of violence, drug abuse and a lack of supervision, including incidents exposed by a young resident of the shelter who came forward to speak to my staff and with CBS 2’s Dave Carlin,” Holden continued. “The city should not renew Westhab’s contract.”
According to the committee’s tentative mission, the Homeless Services Committee will meet quarterly at a minimum and present a report at the board’s monthly meeting.
In addition, nonmembers of CB5 who have an interest in the shelter will be permitted to be on the committee.
“We want the community to know that Community Board 5 is serious about homelessness,” said Walter Sanchez, first vice-chair of CB5.
“If we have a committee in place, even if they don’t meet too often, but they’re educated, I think it would be of great value to the community,” he continued. “It’s important to educate people. We need to listen, learn and react.”
Westhab did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
Editor’s note: Walter Sanchez is the publisher of this news organization. His recent remarks were made in his capacity while chairing the executive committee meeting on Nov. 2.