Shelter fight heading for the courts

A legal defense fund established by merchants and residents of the Westchester Square – Zerega community is taking the city into court to temporarily close homeless shelter that was opened without any community notification.

The homeless shelter, located in a new building at 1564 St. Peter’s Avenue, is home to 11 families, and soon 38 may occupy the building at three to six month intervals as they transfer to permanent housing.

The opening of the shelter has caused uproar because no “community impact study” or “fair share analysis”

by the Department of Homeless Services was completed, as required by law, due to an unspecified emergency. On Friday, September 18, attorneys Stephen Kaufman and Robert Swetnick filed a lawsuit petitioning for a temporary restraining order against the opening of the shelter. “This is the city’s new secret tactic for opening shelters,” Kaufman said. “The [DHS] commissioner believes he has the prerogative to enter into agreements with building owners who have financial difficulties, and that by paying a day rate, the city gets to bypass the City Charter and community review.”

Hanna Acampora, one longtime resident in Zerega, said that the shelter represents an agency out of touch with the needs and concerns of middle class taxpayers.

“This is a clear example of how out of touch the city is with issues that affect the middle class,” Acampora said. “This is a community of homeowners whose most significant asset – their house – has been devalued by an end-run around the law.”

John Boinzio, of the Association of Merchants and Business Professionals of Westchester Square, said that the opening of the shelter, which seems to have the blessing of Mayor Bloomberg’s administration, would devalue real estate and have a negative impact on commerce.

“No sane person can honestly argue that the presence of a homeless shelter in a residential community presents no irreparable harm,” Bonizio said. “Properties in communities with shelters are considered less desirable. That’s irreparable, and we intend to show that this is what exactly is happening here.”

A protest in front of Mayor Bloomberg’s Pelham Bay campaign office drew 40 protestors on Saturday, September 21.

“We have accepted more than our fair share of social service programs in Zerega,” said Dorothy Krynicki. “Instead of saying not in our backyard, we are saying enough in our backyard.”

Even though there are more than 20 social service programs in a 40-square-block radius, a city attorney argued that the petitioners have “a mere distaste for the presence of a homeless facility in their neighborhood.”

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