Wakefield says no to homeless saturation

The residents of Wakefield are not willing to see their community oversaturated with services for the homeless, and are already doing their fair share to help the special needs population.

That was the message that elected officials, community leaders, and activists took to the steps of City Hall on Thursday, December 16 regarding the city’s plans to award three Department of Homeless Services contracts to service providers in Wakefield. They called on Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration to support a proposal to allow the U.S. Army to transfer a National Guard unit currently stationed next to the Kingsbridge Armory to the Muller Army Reserve Center on East 238th Street.

A 200-bed facility for homeless men has been proposed for Muller, directly across the street from another shelter and within close walking distance of a third. Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who did not vote on a local redevelopment plan that would have turned Muller into homeless housing, along with civic leaders from Wakefield and Woodlawn, called on Bloomberg to intervene.

We understand that we must help the least fortunate among us,” Diaz said. “With that said, Community Board 12 is already doing its fair share for the homeless. Adding another shelter to this community is wrong, especially when a viable alternative use for the MARC is on the table.”

The city could not approve plans for the 200-bed facility after the Local Redevelopment Authority, which is made up of Diaz and two deputy mayors who report to Mayor Bloomberg, could not decide on a vote for homeless beds at Muller.This returned tthe future use of MARC to the U.S. Department of Defense.

“I am hopeful that the Department of Defense will see the wisdom in continuing to use this site for military purposes,” Diaz stated.

Senator Jeff Klein, Assemblyman Jeff Dinowitz and Councilman Oliver Koppell all said that they agreed with the plan to move the National Guard unit into the MARC facility. Community Board 12 chairman Father Richard Gorman said that he believes it is time for other communities to shoulder the burden.

“The Federal Base Closure Process gives priority to homeless assistance facilities and there is a need to provide shelter to this vulnerable population,” said Jessica Scaperotti, spokeswoman for the mayor’s office.

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