Oct. 9, 2019 By Allie Griffin
A public hearing on the planned Glendale shelter erupted Monday night into a chaotic mess of shouting, booing, name-calling and arguing as area residents repeatedly told and often yelled at officials on stage that a shelter wasn’t welcome in the community — with one woman going so far as to say she hopes someone would burn it down.
Queens Community Board 5 hosted the hearing on the 200-single-men shelter planned to open at 78-16 Cooper Ave. Representatives of the community board, the Department of Homeless Services and the shelter provider Westhab sat on stage above a packed school auditorium.
Hundreds stood in lines that snaked up the hill and piled into Christ the King High School in Middle Village. The crowd had to go through metal detectors and there were community members wearing black T-shirts that read “join the fight to save our community.” A large police presence was also on hand.
Matt Borden, Assistant Commissioner for the Department of Homeless Services, began the meeting by briefly overviewing Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to combat homelessness and then a representative of Westhab went into some of the details of the Glendale shelter.
When the hearing was opened to questions and comments, tempers flared and officials such as Borden were ridiculed.
Most speakers made their feelings very clear: the shelter and the 200 men who will live there aren’t welcome in Glendale.
Mike Papa, a member of the Glendale-Middle Village Coalition and a past protest organizer, kicked off the comment period by criticizing the officials.
“We’re not here to listen to these people’s excuses or justifications of why they’re going to put this in our community, we’re here to tell you that we will not accept this facility in our community,” Papa said to a cheering crowd.
Papa, who also claimed that the shelter’s residents would be coming straight from prison, told attendees to keep fighting against it and said the shelter was “not a done deal.”
He noted the shelter’s location has multiple schools within a 10-block radius, as well as a day care and children’s gymnastics center close by — a point brought up throughout the night.
Other speakers were angered by the mere presence of homeless people in the area.
Nicole Albergo, a Middle Village resident, called the homeless “drug addicts and sexual offenders” as well as “lowlife pieces of crap that my tax dollars pay for.”
She said she was afraid for children and senior citizens like her 95-year-old grandmother who lives in the community.
“They should be locked away forever and out of society permanently,” Albergo said of the homeless.
Council Member Robert Holden also took to the microphone during the allotted comment time and reiterated his calls for a district 75 school in place of the shelter at 78-16 Cooper Ave, saying shelter providers or “poverty pimps,” as he called them, won out. He concluded by saying the shelter would not come to the site — “we’ll make sure of it,” he said.
Supporters of the homeless attempted to speak, but quickly came under fire.
When members of the Ridgewood Tenants Union, a group that fights gentrification and displacement, took the microphone to support the shelter, the crowd booed and attempted to drown out their comments. Some accused them of being planned activists from outside the community.
When Tousif Ahsan, a resident of Ridgewood and a member of the union, began his turn at the mic by saying “I’m here to speak in support of our homeless neighbors,” he was quickly met with boos and jeers.
He yelled into the microphone in order to be heard over the booing which continued as he mentioned the brutal murders of four homeless men in Chinatown, adding that it was preventable.
“Homeless shelters are not the answer to homelessness, but in the meantime, they are necessary to protect our homeless neighbors from violence,” Ahsan said. “The answer is a home guarantee that protects tenants, homeowners, and the homeless against the real enemy, greedy rich people who want to build luxury developments in our neighborhood.”
One speaker, Laura Hernandez, shared her difficult personal experience of growing up in a five block radius of three shelters in Brownsville. She said she was nearly abducted by a male resident at 12 years old and remembers running home from school afraid of the shelter residents who made lewd comments or drunkenly exposed themselves to urinate.
“I am reminded that — as much as I hate remembering — the fears that shaked my adolescence, I know that they’re what brought me here today,” she said. “I hope that no other children will know what it’s like to lose their innocence to a city that says it cares, but won’t even listen to its own people.”
The evening came to a head when one speaker from the community said she hopes the shelter would burn down.
here's a clip of a woman at the CB5 mtg who urged for the shelter to be burned down, to cheers. pic.twitter.com/O80sYMknL9
— qns.com is owned by real estate 🥞 (@cr_yellowaxe) October 8, 2019
“I don’t want [the homeless] in my backyard,” resident Isabel Cinelli said. “They’re a ticking bomb.”
“I’m not happy, I’m extremely unhappy. I hope somebody’s gonna burn the place down,” she said as the crowd cheered and applauded. “If that’s gonna happen, I don’t care.”
At that point Borden, from DHS, cut in. “I’m sorry, I can’t abide by that,” Borden said back. “You can’t threaten to bomb [burn] a shelter where there are people living. I refuse to accept that a New Yorker would say that.”
His colleague on stage, Annabel Palma, a deputy commissioner with the DHS also spoke up.
“We are here and are prepared to answer any questions or address any concerns, but understanding that we didn’t come here for folks to be verbally abusive, folks to vilify our clients,” Palma said. “Our clients are not criminals.”
Later in the meeting, Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi took over the microphone and called out the demeaning comments some had made about the homeless.
“For those of you who are yelling, saying [the homeless] are all criminals, saying they’re all sexual predators as opposed to human beings like us who lost their apartment, shame on you,” to a mix of boos and cheers.
“For those of you who are saying nasty things about homeless people, you are way out of line,” Hevesi finished.
Following the Monday meeting, Council Member Holden was criticized for not denouncing his constituents’ ugly comments, as Hevesi did.
Members of the Ridgewood Tenants Union further accused Holden of using scare tactics and fear mongering around the shelter issue, which they said directly lead to the type of language spoken at Monday’s meeting.
On Tuesday afternoon, Holden retweeted a video of Cinelli’s comment on burning the shelter down.
“I understand that my neighbors are frustrated, but comments like this are dangerous and uncalled for,” Holden wrote. “Making such threats serves nobody, and I’m very disappointed with how this meeting is being portrayed as a result.”