2004-03-24 / Editorials


Homeless Families
Are Citywide Problem

Homeless Families
Are Citywide Problem

If Homes For the Homeless, a nonprofit group, goes through with its plan to create a giant homeless shelter near John F. Kennedy International Airport, Queens will find itself with the two largest such facilities in the city of New York.

The group’s proposal would expand the 259-unit Saratoga Family Inn in Springfield Gardens by 91 units, making it larger than Carlton House in South Ozone Park, which currently holds the dubious distinction of being the largest such shelter in the city.

The possible expansion of the Saratoga is not the end of the story: Homes For the Homeless operates another 80-unit facility a short distance away from the one-time Holiday Inn. Area residents and community leaders note that a concentration of such facilities lies within a five-mile radius of the Saratoga, located on Rockaway Boulevard between 175th Street and 145th Road. Community Board 13 Chairman Richard Hellenbretch pointed out that such an expansion would overcrowd area schools and clog transit systems.

The city Board of Standards and Appeals blocked the expansion plan, claiming that Homes for the Homeless, which was co-founded by real estate developer Leonard Stern, did not prove a need for the additional space existed. Homes for the Homeless then filed suit in state Supreme Court in Manhattan to force the city to allow the expansion.

"Now we’ll see what the courts will do," Dan Andrews, spokesman for Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, said. Marshall is on record as opposing the Homes for the Homeless proposal.

The city Department of Homeless Services has remained neutral on the subject of the proposal. The Bloomberg mayoral administration prefers to move toward intervention to prevent homelessness. The mayor would prefer to place people in permanent housing as an alternative to opening more shelters.

We agree with the mayor. People who have been moved off the streets and out of the shelter system into permanent housing are on their way to becoming tax-paying, contributing citizens who bolster the city’s economy rather than being a charge on it. Until permanent housing for the city’s homeless population can be found, however, the shelter system is still with us, and so are the problems it presents. Community Board 13 is a microcosm of the borough as a whole. In every community board, shelters and community facilities are springing up. In some cases, not even shelters exist. Almost every day a bus leaves Rikers Island with a load of released prisoners, who are unceremoniously deposited at Queens Plaza with a $4 fare card and very little else. Their choices for places of residence are shelters or the streets.

Marshall, Hellenbretch and the residents of Community Board 13 want the best for themselves and their fellow New Yorkers, including those who have at this time no home to call their own. But the board and the borough do not have unlimited resources at their command. The homeless population is a problem that pervades all neighborhoods and every borough. Community Board 13 and Queens are willing to bear their fair share of the burden—but they can bear only their fair share and no more. It’s time for the rest of the city to do its part as well.

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