Local residents, merchants, and officials are expected to offer testimony, some possibly under subpoena, in a court hearing to determine if the opening of the St. Peter’s Avenue homeless shelter in August was done in a lawful manner.
Former assemblyman, Stephen Kaufman, who will be representing the plaintiffs in the case ‘Westchester Square v. Robert Hess, Commissioner of the Department of Homeless Services,’ is arguing his clients’ case before a judge on Monday, December 7 at the Bronx County Courthouse.
According to an anonymous source, several witnesses were subpoenaed, possibly some city officials.
“The city’s Corporation Counsel is telling certain people not to cooperate with Stephan Kaufman,” the source said. “There are plans in the works to subpoena testimony from witnesses who can’t or won’t cooperate.”
Likely to offer testimony will be the plaintiffs: John Bonizio of the Association of Merchants and Business Professionals of Westchester Square, Sandi Lusk of the Westchester Square Zerega Improvement Organization, and Hannah Acampora, a resident who lives a block away from the homeless shelter.
The shelter opened without community notification or Fair Share analysis at 1564 St. Peter’s Avenue. It is a brand new 38-unit apartment building that the city is renting for about $90 per unit, per day.
“If called, I am going to testify. We are just overwhelmed by these social service programs and we are being pushed out of the homes we have lived in for years,” Acampora said. “The way they keep dumping social service programs in Zerega, 22 different programs so far, is disrespectful. Our property values keep declining, while our taxes do not.”
DHS has stated that because of a citywide homeless emergency, it is permissible to bypass City Charter provisions calling for a Fair Share analysis process determining if the community needs the services being offered. The Fair Share process increases public participation through notification and discussion.
Senator Jeff Klein, Assemblyman Michael Benedetto, and Councilman Jimmy Vacca, as well as Community Board 10 district manager Kenneth Kearns all have made statements that they were not notified of the opening of the shelter in a timely manner. The merchants association thinks DHS was not forthcoming in the opening of the shelter, and plans on bringing supporters to the hearing.
“DHS has not followed the City Charter. Westchester Square is oversaturated with social service facilities of all kinds,” Bonizio said. “We are putting up posters all over the place, and seeing if we are going to need busses to bring people down to the hearing.”
Reach reporter Patrick Rocchio at 718 742-3393 or firstname.lastname@example.org