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Shelter foes prepare for more protests

The protesters of a St. Peters Avenue homeless shelter are gearing up for one final Saturday afternoon of picketing outside of Mayor Bloomberg’s Pelham Bay campaign office before the November 3 general election.

After six weeks of Saturday protests outside the office located at Hobart Avenue and Middletown Road, the demonstrations organized by the Association of Merchants and Business Professionals of Westchester Square, Westchester Square-Zerega Improvement Organization and others will conclude on Halloween.

For the seventh straight week on Saturday, October 31, protesters will picket from 2 to 4 p.m. against the shelter that opened in early August without advance community notification or a “fair share analysis” by the Department of Homeless Services.

“It is unfortunate that we have to resort to these kinds of protests to be heard,” said John Bonizio, president of the AMBPWS. “City agencies are supposed to consult with the community boards. That is why these protests started and will continue through next week, right up to Election Day.”

DHS has maintained that the opening of the shelter in the newly constructed, 38-unit residential building was prompted by an emergency uptick in homelessness. In addition to the protests, a lawsuit filed on behalf of merchants and residents in Westchester Square regarding the legality of opening the shelter at 1564 St. Peters Avenue without a contract, as the City Charter may require, is winding its way through the courts.

According to Bonizio, their lawyers are looking for an opportunity to present more than 1,000 signed letters from residents of the Westchester Square and Zerega communities to a judge in protest of the shelter opening.

“We intend to bring over 1,000 signed letters to court showing that the people are opposed to the shelter, and that all of this could have been avoided had DHS notified the community,” Bonizio stated. “If you don’t involve the community, the community gets involved in ways you cannot control.”

The effectiveness of the protests, which have sometimes swelled to more than 60 people, is evidenced by the fact the Comptroller William Thompson has filed a motion to join in the legal fight against the operation of the shelter.

At issue for Thompson is that the absence of a city contract with the service provider, Basic Housing Inc., which denies him the authority to audit the payments made by the city, which are said to total around $2,700 per family, per month.

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