Sept. 30, 2019 By Allie Griffin
The highly contentious College Point homeless shelter on 20th Avenue will open this week, but instead of its original plan to house 200 single men the shelter will now be home to 200 single women.
Local elected officials, who announced the change Monday, viewed it as a positive step, although far from ideal. The shelter, which has been the source of great protest, is slated to open Wednesday.
In December 2018, the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) first announced that a new 200-bed shelter for single men would open at 127-03 20th Ave in October. Since that announcement, elected officials and community members have objected to its opening, organizing petitions and rallies to highlight their misgivings.
Critics have argued that the site is too close to schools and residential neighborhoods, yet not close enough to adequate public transportation options. They also argue that the area is already unfairly burdened by a large number of public services.
Council Member Paul Vallone launched a change.org petition at the end of last year against the shelter that has generated more than 5,000 online.
“Over the years, College Point has had well beyond its fair share of municipal services dumped on it by the City,” Vallone wrote in the petition. “College Point, and this location in particular, lacks the infrastructure, transportation options and medical facilities to support a homeless shelter.”
After pushback, DHS has modified its shelter plan and is housing women instead of men, according to local officials.
In a statement, Vallone viewed the switch as “a step in the right direction.” He credited civic groups and fellow electeds for the change, arguing that it was their lobbying that led to the administration’s new direction.
“The Administration should have involved the community in this process from the beginning, instead of playing catch up in the weeks leading up to the proposed opening date,” Valone said. “I thank the College Point civic leaders, including Jennifer Shannon and the late Joe Femenia, for their constant dedication to our community. Our continued coordination will ensure that DHS listens and properly responds to the community’s needs and concerns going forward.”
Soon after the shelter plan was announced, residents banded together and formed the College Point Residents Coalition to fight it. Michael Deng, one of its members, said he was relieved by the DHS’s decision.
“This is not what we demanded, certainly it’s not what we hoped for,” Deng said. “However, we do feel that a women’s shelter will be better and is a less intimidating fit for the community, particularly the elderly, women and school kids, as their safety is what we are most worried and concerned about.”
The Westchester-based nonprofit Westhab will run the shelter, as well as a planned and equally contested shelter in Glendale.
“Although the plan is by no means perfect, we are satisfied that a far better outcome has been achieved,” State Sen. John Liu said.
DHS didn’t return a request for comment by the time of publication.