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Homeless protest escalates

A group of 50 protestors from different walks-of-life marched outside of Mayor Bloomberg’s Pelham Bay campaign office for a second consecutive weekend in a battle over a St. Peter’s Avenue homeless facility.

Chanting “we won’t go away until election day,” members of the Westchester Square Zerega Improvement Organization were joined by the Westchester Square Zerega Bangladeshi Community Association and the Association of Merchants and Business Professionals of Westchester Square in the second Saturday protest outside Bloomberg 2009’s office at Middletown Road and Hobart Avenue.

The demonstration began shortly after 1 p.m. on Saturday, September 26 and grew bigger until it ended at 3 p.m. The group protested the opening of a homeless facility at 1564 St. Peter’s Avenue without community notification or a Fair Share Analysis. The 40-square-block area near Westchester Square currently has 22 social-service providers.

“I liken the situation with social services to a scale,” said Assemblyman Michael Benedetto, who joined the protestors. “There are just so many social service providers that you can put in a community before the scales start to tip to the wrong side and people say there are too many social services to continue living here.”

The shelter opened in a recently-built luxury apartment building because of an emergency declared by the Department of Homeless Services after an uptick in the city’s homelessness over the summer. For those living nearby, the concerns range from quality-of-life issues to property values.

“The concentration of social services negatively affects the area,” said Benson Street homeowner Victor Guadalupe. “It is not that we have anything against the homeless, but we are oversaturated with services. Westchester Square is a very nice, family-oriented neighborhood and we want to keep it that way. It seems like the mayor doesn’t care about us, and this has got to stop.”

Many in the crowd blamed Mayor Bloomberg for the situation because DHS is a city agency under mayoral purview. The opening of the shelter is the subject of continued litigation, headed by attorney and former Assemblyman Stephen Kaufman. The legal defense fund seeking an injunction against the shelter is funded, in part, through the efforts of AMBPWS.

“I want to support my community and I know the mayor knows what is going on here,” said AMBPWS vice-president Juan Clarke. “We have been working to make Westchester Square a better place to live and do business for the past two years, but the opening of this shelter is another blow to our efforts.”

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