More than 50 protestors showed up for the fourth straight week of Saturday picketing outside of Mayor Bloomberg’s Pelham Bay Campaign office. There are no signs that organizers have any intention of calling off the protests of the opening of a homeless shelter in a brand-new Westchester Square building.
Protesters from all walks of life once again flocked to the storefront on the corner of Hobart Avenue and Middletown Road, but the only person inside for much of the protest was a lone staffer for Bloomberg’s third campaign for mayor. She sat working at a desk, ignoring the protest.
According to Westchester Square Merchants Association president John Bonizio, his group and the Westchester Square Zerega Improvement Organization have collected over 1,000 signed form letters from residents near the shelter at 1564 St. Peter’s Avenue who want it shut down.
“We have more than 1,000 letters signed with names and addresses – some with phone numbers – protesting the opening of the homeless shelter without community notification or fair share analysis [by the Department of Homeless Services],” Bonizio said. “Councilman Jimmy Vacca is going to bring these letters to the mayor, who we hear has said he doesn’t know anything about what is going on with the shelter.”
Elected officials like Vacca, Senator Jeff Klein and Assemblyman Michael Benedetto have had conversations with high-ranking members of the Bloomberg administration. The administration has justified the shelter opening because of an uptick in homelessness that has caused an unspecified emergency.
Many feel that this “emergency” simply amounts to poor planning and policy in response to the deep recession. Area homeowners are growing increasingly alarmed by the more than 20 social service providers in their neighborhood.
“I don’t mind having the homeless people in the neighborhood, but I do believe it will decrease the value of my house,” said Luis Velez of Overing Street, who was taking part in the protest. “I have already seen working people leaving the neighborhood because they are fed up. I moved there in 1997, and it really was a quiet area. It has gotten noisier – we are seeing more fights – and the type of people living in the area now just don’t care about it and leave dirt everywhere.”
John Sanabria, of St. Raymond Avenue, watched the picketing while sitting on his parked blue Harley Davidson motorcycle.
“I can’t park my motorcycle in my driveway any more. I have to lock it in my garage because I am concerned it will get stolen,” Sanabria said. “There are now arguments in front of my house, with people cursing, almost every day. A change in the area is happening really fast.”
©2009 Community News Group