by Patrick Rocchio
Civic groups from the Westchester Square – Zerega community and beyond are mounting six weekends of protest in front of Mayor Bloomberg’s Pelham Bay campaign office prior to the November election.
On Saturday, September 19, members of the Westchester Square Zerega Improvement Organization, Association of Merchants and Business Professionals of Westchester Square, and everyday citizens marched to Bloomberg’s office at Hobart Avenue and Middletown Road in protest of a homeless facility recently opened at 1564 St. Peter’s Avenue.
The Department of Homeless Services opened the facility because of a declared state of emergency, without following normal procedures. It is now the subject of litigation, with a resident and merchant’s legal defense fund suing the city, claiming it is violating its own rules about community notification and city contracts.
“We are going to be protesting in front of Mayor Bloomberg’s campaign office every Saturday before the election in November,” said Sandi Lusk, of WSZIO. “We have a list of 170 people which we are going to call and send mail to this week, informing them of the protest. Whether it snowballs or not, a group will be here every week until the election.”
Holding signs that read “Help the needy, not the greedy,” and “Secret homeless shelters coming your way courtesy of Mayor Bloomberg,” the protesters spent two hours outside of the office with at least five police officers present at all times.
The group also chanted slogans like “No hearing, no shelter,” and “Stop dumping on Westchester Square.”
“This march is a direct result of the organizational meeting that took place last Saturday at the Westchester Square Library,” said Waterbury LaSalle Community Association president Tony Cannata. “Hundreds of people at that meeting agreed that they didn’t want a homeless shelter that was snuck into an area oversaturated with all kinds of social services. The owners of the building get to rent an apartment for a guaranteed price of $2700 a month, when they can only get $1400 on the open market.”
The building was supposed to be luxury apartments that were close to the #6 IRT train, and many felt that it would provide needed middle-class housing in the community at market-rate rents.
“My neighbors were really excited because we thought this was going to be nice-looking, middle-income housing right across the street from our hospital and near all kinds of transportation,” said Dorothy Krynicki. “The opening of this shelter was a shock.”
A spokeswoman for Mayor Bloomberg said that the city hoped the community would accept the shelter.
“We cannot comment on events related to this shelter site due to ongoing litigation,” said mayor’s office spokeswoman Heather Janik. “However, [the Department of Homeless Services] makes every effort to weigh the needs of homeless families and children and the communities in which they reside […].”