More than 450 Staten Island residents and local business owners turned out on March 12 to show opposition to the city’s plans to erect a 200-family homeless shelter on the North Shore.
The contentious meeting, held at the Staaten in West Brighton, which was filled with anti-shelter signage and plenty of verbal ire, pitted several North Shore civic leaders against Christine Quinn, the former City Council Speaker and current president and CEO of the non-profit Women in Need (WIN), which is set to use the shelter.
“Did anything come out of the meeting? In my opinion, no,” said local business owner Peter Lisi, who has vehemently opposed the shelter since its announcement last year. “The city is still refusing to listen to input from local business owners and residents who will be directly affected by the absurd location of this shelter.”
Lisi, like many others in attendance, says he is not against the presence of another homeless shelter in the borough, but questions the city’s judgment regarding its placement at 44 Victory Boulevard – a site that has been historically categorized as neglected and dangerous for years; and is now currently slated to benefit from the Bay Street Corridor rezoning plan and resulting Downtown Staten Island revival.
“Right now a mother and child who become victims of homelessness have to completely uproot and make a treacherous journey to the Bronx to seek shelter,” Lisi said. “I am completely sympathetic to that, and yes, a change has to be made to tackle that problem. But for the city to decide to put a 200-unit facility that will house 500 to 600 people in an area that is poised for revitalization, an area that has been inundated with crime and drugs for so long and is now ready to rise from the ashes – it makes absolutely zero sense.”
Lisi even goes as far as referring to the shelter’s placement as a “set-up.”
“The site is adjacent to park that the city has refused to clean up for decades,” Lisi said. “They’ve neglected this area for so long, purposely setting it up for failure. And now they’re telling us that a homeless shelter will revitalize it. Well, we’re not buying it.”
But Mayor Bill de Blasio continues to defend his plan to open 90 new shelters across the five boroughs over the next five years, stating that the city is being completely transparent in its planning.
“We’re going to prevail because we have the right to find a location and put it in place without going through the normal extensive review process,” the mayor said last month during an appearance on “Inside City Hall.” “We do want to communicate with communities. We do want to build as much consensus as possible. We want to make adjustments according to community concerns. You know, a lot of times we’ll propose a site and people will have a concern and I’ve said to many Council members and others, give us a different site and if it works we’re very open to a better alternative.”
Mayor de Blasio said communities are given 30 days notice prior to the shelter’s opening to voice their concerns, which will be considered accordingly.
“What’s not up for debate is whether we’re going to have shelters in the very kind of community that needs them,” the mayor continued. “And that was the plan I put forward almost two years ago. I said we’re going to reorient the whole shelter system to where people actually come from. Staten Island is an easy example. A thousand or so folks – I think more than 1,000 – come from Staten Island who are in our shelter system, historically sent off the Island for shelter that disconnected them from family, friends, the kid’s school – it made no sense. We’ve obviously announced that we’re going to be setting up shelter facilities in Staten Island.”
Nicholas Siclari, chair of CB1 and a longtime cheerleader for the St. George community, insists that he will make every effort to makes sure it’s not in his backyard.
“We are proceeding with a lawsuit against the City of New York citing the Fair Share Charter that states if a section of a neighborhood already has its ‘fair share’ of city facilities, another may not be placed within that neighborhood,” Siclari said. “This charter certainly applies to shelters and that’s how we intend to fight it. There is a limit to how much the North Shore can handle and we’ve already surpassed it. Especially in the area of St. George. We will continue to fight this.”