Muslim community center protests opening of youth shelter

Members of The Baitul Maamur Jame Masjid Mosque voiced their opposition to Covenant House on St. Peters Avenue.
Photo by Silvio Pacifico

The Zerega community continues its relentless opposition to a homeless shelter’s establishment at 1550 St. Peters Avenue.

The Covenant House shelter, serving runaway youth, would use the three-floor, recently rehabilitated building on the corner of Glebe Avenue to temporary house 30 males and 10 females between the ages 16 to 24. Most of the youngsters originally hailed from the Bronx, but more recently lived in Covenant House’s 120-bed homeless shelter near Manhattan’s Port Authority Bus Terminal, according to spokesperson for the sponsor.

The east Bronx community isn’t protesting Covenant House itself, but rather the logistics and the lack of transparency.

When originally announced in fall of 2018, neither Councilman Mark Gjonaj’s office or Community Board 10 were notified or included in the plan’s implementation.

A Westchester Square resident thought NYC is dumping its problems on his neighboorhood.
Photo by Silvio Pacifico

As a matter of fact, that selected location has had many in Westchester Square and Zerega literally up in arms, protesting the soon-to-be shelter.

One religious leader, Mohammad Ali, joined dozens of residents in a rally outside of Covenant House on Saturday, January 19.

His Muslim community center, Baitul Mamur Jame Masjid at 1511 St. Peter’s Avenue will be a neighbor to Covenant House and he has concerns.

“They need to change the location,” he said, justifying his stance, noting that it’s in the heart of his community, in close proximity to another shelter, and could be an issue with neighboring Pearly Gates Park. The 45th Precinct has identified the playground as a crime ‘hotspot’ that was provided additional monitoring and camera surveillance due to the criminal activity that is present during the evening hours.

Mohammad Ali (front, l) and Baitul Maamur Jame Masjid Mosque members voiced their opposition to Covenant House on St. Peters Avenue.
Photo by Silvio Pacifico

While residents and community leaders are taking to the streets in protest, Gjonaj is fighting the problem from a legal angle.

“We are exercising every legal option we have, I’m not giving up on this,” Gjonaj said, expressing his total opposition to anymore supportive housing in the Bronx.

Gjonaj specified his issues are with the location of Covenant House, saying that it is not a condusive environment for the youth that will enter the program, not the concept of a youth homeless shelter.

“There is no clear path on this, but we are not giving up,” the councilman mentioned.

Westchester Square residents and Westchester Square Civic Association members let their voices be heard.
Photo by Silvio Pacifico

Gjonaj admitted that his 13th Council District may not have a choice but to accept Covenant House’s latest facility.

“If we can’t stop it we can certainly shape it by negotiating favorable terms with City Hall,” he said.

Finally, the councilman intends to make City Hall agree that he and the community must be given advance notice and input into any future proposed developments for the area.

“We’re not done fighting, though,” Gjonaj said.

Community members came out to protest the installation of Covenant House on St. Peters Avenue.
Photo by Silvio Pacifico

The next round of the fight will be on Friday, January 25 at 1:30 p.m. when Ali and other community activists will hold another rally to protest Covenant House outside its proposed facility.

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