2015-05-20 / Front Page

Community Concerns Addressed

--BY RICHARD GENTILVISO


Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas, at mic, and Councilman Costa Constantinides joined law enforcement and representatives from city organizations for the annual town hall meeting at the Museum of the Moving Image jointly hosted by Simotas and the United Community Civic Association and its President Rose Marie Poveromo. 
Photo Jason D. Antos Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas, at mic, and Councilman Costa Constantinides joined law enforcement and representatives from city organizations for the annual town hall meeting at the Museum of the Moving Image jointly hosted by Simotas and the United Community Civic Association and its President Rose Marie Poveromo. Photo Jason D. Antos The Sumner M. Redstone Theater at the Museum of the Moving Image was center stage for a Town Hall meeting, dominated by continuing conflict concerning a homeless shelter, jointly hosted by Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas and the United Community Civic Association.

“This is very, very important,” said Simotas at the May 14 event to address community concerns. “I get some of my best ideas from you. When you call my office, when you want the wheels of government to move a little bit faster. When you want to cut through the red tape.”

Moderator for the evening, UCCA President Rose Marie Poveromo introduced “a distinguished panel of federal, state and local officials,” and then called on Gazette publisher and editor Tony Barsamian to ask the first question.


Area residents gathered for the UCCA Town Hall Meeting. 
Photo Jason D. Antos Area residents gathered for the UCCA Town Hall Meeting. Photo Jason D. Antos Pointing to a large volume of calls about ongoing issues about the placement of a homeless shelter at the Westway, a former motel, Barsamian asked, “Is there something more we can do as citizens, something more you can do as elected officials?”

“We were not given the opportunity for input,” said Simotas, responding first. “We were entitled to be notified as a community [and] unfortunately we weren’t,” she said. “But the people [living] in the shelter are not to blame.”

“It happened very quickly last year, this came from top down not bottom up,” said Constantinides regarding the permanent shelter at Westway. “It’s not an ideal location.”

Westway is located at 71-11 Astoria Blvd. along the Grand Central Parkway near LaGuardia Airport.

Simotas filed a lawsuit in State Supreme Court last November contesting the lack of notification.

“The city is fighting [the case] on jurisdictional grounds,” she said.

After serving as an overnight shelter residence for the homeless for at least a decade, the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) moved in more than 100 families at the Westway on July 9, 2014.

Bonnie Stone, President and Chief Executive Officer of Women In Need (WIN) the social services provider that was granted a $24 million, four-year contract in January by the city to operate the shelter said 117 families currently live at Westway, a total of 358 people, of which 248 are children.

“The community is discouraged and disillusioned,” said Poveromo, a member of Community Board 1. “We didn’t want a homeless shelter in this community.”

“Everyone is impacted,” said a real estate broker, concerning the economic effect of a homeless shelter on neighborhood home values.

Although acknowledging home values are a factor, a representative from the DHS said, “Sheltering of homeless individuals is a collective responsibility of all New Yorkers.”

In 2014, the number of homeless people in the city was 67,810 with all but about 3,000 living in shelters and more than half, 41,633, in families according to an October 31, 2014 New York Times report.

“The community does support the right of homeless people and the right of everybody to live in our community,” said Community Board 1 member Nancy Silverman, at the Town Hall meeting held at the Museum for the Moving Image sponsored by Aravella Simotas and United Community Civic Association, adding that the shelter [located at Westway] should be “more centrally located.”

“I don’t understand how you don’t see that this is a dangerous situation for this small neighborhood,” said a homeowner living near the Westway.

“A request was made to identify who lives in Westway,” said Poveromo citing a convicted child sex offender was found living there in February.

The 114th Precinct has reported 36 incidents resulting from complaints inside the Westway.

“Husband and wife assaults,” said Capt. Denis Mullaney. “There has been a slight increase in crime dating back to July 2014 in the area,” which he said is comparable to rates before the permanent conversion.

“Clearly safety is all of our concern,” said Simotas. “[But] it’s not just safety, it’s a host of issues.”

“We have an obligation to the homeless men and women in the city and to do that safely,” said Constantinides, adding, “You can’t just drop something out of the sky, resources have to be given to the community.”

“The facility is safe. We have been inspected I don’t know how many times,” said Stone. “There are no outstanding violations. It’s all up to code.”

Several residents complained about sanitation at the Westway and without kitchens, food is delivered to the facility.

The rooms at Westway are 20 feet by 14 feet on the side of a highway, said one resident.

Asked about a city law requiring kitchens, Stone said a contract has not yet been signed.

“If you guys succeed in getting rid of us then there’ll be no kitchens,” she said.

“Let’s be perfectly clear, it’s sad that anyone should be homeless but the obscene rents in the city have a lot to do with that,” said Poveromo.

Other community concerns during the two and one half hour town hall were participatory budget results, access to bathrooms in Astoria Park, MTA negotiations with Access-A-Ride drivers, problems with Select Bus Service kiosks, truck traffic on 42nd and 43rd Streets and Ditmars Boulevard, resurfacing on 21st Street, and the renovation of Astoria Heights Park.

Acting Director of Government and Community Relations with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Ian Van Praagh, announced that a study on noise at LaGuardia and JFK Airports would begin soon and a public meeting on June 15 at the LaGuardia Marriott is scheduled.

“It’s long past due for federal officials to be concerned,” said Poveromo about takeoffs and landings “every 60 seconds” at LaGuardia. “We’ve had enough.”

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