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The battle is just beginning

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Westchester Square, Unfair-Share! Westchester-Square, Unfair-Share!

Plaintiffs in Westchester Square v. Robert Hess, Commissioner of the Department of Homeless Services, who maintain that Hess opened a homeless shelter at 1564 St. Peter’s Avenue in August without adequate notification, have reached out to community boards from Jamaica to Inwood, Cobble Hill to Staten Island.

“We contacted all 60 community boards and told [each] about the need for community boards to be notified by DHS about [homeless] shelters opening,” plaintiff and Westchester Square merchant leader John Bonizio said. “I received many positive phone calls and e-mails in response. We believe that this is going on all around the city.”

Bonizio and his fellow plaintiffs have argued that DHS only notified Community Board 10 after homeless families had already moved into the St. Peter’s Avenue shelter.

Additionally, Councilman Jimmy Vacca has presented Mayor Michael Bloomberg with a petition that asks Hess to schedule a “fair share” hearing on the shelter, as required by the City Charter. More than 1,000 people signed the petition.

DHS maintains that it had the right to open the shelter on an emergency basis and has cited a 1995 case. It pays Basic Housing Inc., a homeless services provider, some $90 per apartment per day to house homeless women and children. DHS has no formal contract with Basic Housing Inc.

Westchester Square merchants, the Westchester Square Zerega Improvement Organization and neighbors have challenged DHS in court, at City Hall and in the street. The plaintiffs feel that social service programs already inundate Westchester Square: 22 in 40 square blocks.

Bonizio isn’t exactly optimistic.

“The city can just come in and say that this is the way it’s going to be,” he said. “ If the judge agrees, that’s it.”

The case has stalled, an attorney for the plaintiffs, former Assemblyman Steven Kaufman, explained.

“The case is going to move forward, just not right now,” Kaufman said.

The Bronx Civil Court had yet to order a second hearing as of press time, a spokeswoman for city lawyers said. However, she also added that such an order could be forthcoming.

Reach reporter Patrick Rocchio at 718 742-3393 or procchio@cnglocal.com

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