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Parks refuse to house Women’s Center

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The political tug-of-war between the city and the Queens Women’s Center got bleaker for the nonprofit this week after the city Parks Department said it would not give the group temporary space.

The Queens Women’s Center has been headquartered in Building #401 at Totten since 1997, but in November it received an eviction notice from the city Fire Department. The Fire Department told the TimesLedger this month the group should apply to the Parks Department for space if it wants to remain at the Bayside fort.

Fort Totten, decommissioned by the U.S. Army in 1995, was to be taken over by the city within the next few months and split between the Fire and Parks Departments. Several nonprofits occupy buildings at the Civil War-era fort, but only the Queens Women’s Center has received an eviction notice.

A Parks Department spokesman said the agency did not want to take new groups into its buildings at this time.

“The issue is we’re not interested in them as a temporary tenant,” a Parks spokesman said.

Douglaston resident Ann Jawin, founder of the women’s center, has refused to move the group out of its building and flouted two Fire Department eviction deadlines, including one earlier this month.

Jawin said her group has put time, money and effort into repairing the building, built in 1905, and should not have to leave. But Jawin said the Parks Department already refused the group space in its buildings.

“They told me I can’t fit the guidelines,” Jawin said of her early meetings with the city about the eviction. “I asked for a copy of the guidelines. They said they weren’t finished yet. Are they writing them so I can’t fit?”

The Parks spokesman said this week the agency was establishing a process for groups to apply for permanent space at Fort Totten, but he said he did not know whether the Queens Women’s Center would be accepted.

The Queens Women’s Center was founded in 1987 and provides a range of services to women and families, including job training, domestic violence programs, counseling, funding and training for women who want to start their own business, among other things.

Jawin said her group has had to halt some of its activities, including group therapy and some classes, because of the impending eviction. The Queens Women’s Center also occupies space at Borough Hall, but Jawin said the space was not adequate for most of the group’s work because it does not provide for confidentiality.

“I’m happy to have it,” she said. “I wish I could duplicate what I have here.”

A Fire Department spokesman told the TimesLedger last month all buildings must be vacated before the property transfer could occur.

Jawin said “it’s 100 percent political. It doesn’t make any sense — I have come to the conclusion it’s discrimina­tion.”

The Fire Department and former Queens Borough President Claire Shulman, who oversaw the development of the Fort Totten reuse plan in the late 1990s, denied any inequity regarding the Queens Women’s Center.

They said Jawin was well-informed about the impending eviction when she chose in 1997 to occupy a future Fire Department building. Other nonprofits at Totten have been using space slated to go to the Parks Department and are in the process of applying for permanent occupancy.

The Fire Department plans to use the Queens Women’s Center building for administration and classroom space, a department spokesman said. The building will be part of the department’s educational campus, which will be based at Totten once the city takes over the land.

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.

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