Homeless housing free-for-all

More information has come to light surrounding the opening of a homeless shelter in Zerega that left both residents and elected officials in the dark as to the plans of the Department of Homeless Services to house 38 needy families.

Commissioner Robert Hess of DHS and representatives from the mayor’s office, as well as Hector Diaz of service provider Basics Housing Inc., met neighborhood and business leaders at Community Board 10 on Friday, August 28. The meeting was at times contentious, according to those present.

Councilman Jimmy Vacca said he was blindsided by DHS, who didn’t provide notification to any elected officials and said the service provider accidently didn’t notify the community board before moving 10 homeless families into a brand new apartment building at 1564 St. Peter’s Avenue.

“This agency’s conduct has caused damage to the Zerega community and the only way to remedy this is to discontinue this use [as a homeless shelter,]” Councilman Vacca said. “[The agency] acknowledged that it never did a needs assessment study or consulted with elected officials.”

According to Vacca, no one was notified because of a homeless housing emergency declared by Commissioner Hess after an uptick in homelessness this summer.

“I can remember this agency claiming an emergency 50 to 60 times in the past,” Vacca said “Declaring an emergency does not mean they can move people in during the middle of the night. The Zerega community should not have this shelter forced upon us because of a perceived emergency on the part of this commissioner.”

The meeting drew a wide array of elected officials and community and business leaders, despite the fact that it was held at 3 p.m. in the afternoon. Many saw DHS, which is a mayoral agency, as steamrolling this project into an area that is already over-saturated by social service agencies.

“This is Mayor Bloomberg telling the community to drop dead,” said Assemblyman Michael Benedetto. “What the mayor’s office is doing is an insult to the Zerega community, which has opened its arms to social service programs time and time again and is now being abused by the city of New York. Benedetto added: “The question is how long can you continue to dump social service programs in Zerega before the scales tip and people decide it is no longer a desirable community? I am going to be reaching out to attorneys to see what legal options we can use to bring the city into court and stop them from moving forward.”

DHS Commissioner Hess apologized for failing to communicate effectively, though he said it was only an oversight, according to those present. The press was barred from the meeting.

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