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Shelter makes Elmhurst less safe: Residents

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Elmhurst residents south of Queens Boulevard were alarmed and angered to learn that a shelter for the homeless has opened up at a former convent once owned by St. John’s Hospital.

The facility, operated by a group called The Queens Alliance, boasts 29 rooms and officially opened the week of June 22. It had not received any clients from the city by the time of a community information meeting held Monday. The shelter, the organization’s first, includes administrative offices.

The building, at 86-18 58th Ave., was sold to 58th Ave. Management in 2005, according to city Finance Department records. St. John’s and its sister hospital, Mary Immaculate in Jamaica, went bankrupt and closed at the end of February.

Queens Alliance Vice President Yolanda Martin-Garibaldi took questions from an increasingly hostile crowd, who worried the shelter would flood the neighborhood with panhandlers and criminals.

“These are struggling human beings and they need to start somewhere,” she said, noting the shelter would not accept sex offenders or clients fresh out of prison.

She said the building would have 24-hour security from two guards and would not allow visitors, but her answers failed to placate a crowd angry that it had no input before the facility opened.

Community Board 4 District Manager Richard Italiano urged residents to write their elected officials to change the process. “There is no community input on a facility like this,” he said. “We have no say in it.”

Neighbor Cora Marquez said a building for the mentally challenged sits across the street from the new shelter and blamed a car fire several years ago on one of the residents of that home.

Brayan Terrazas, a city housing police officer who lives next door to the building, said college students used to live there and worried for the safety of his three daughters.

“You say it’s two security guardsi There’s a back door to that building,” he said.

“We already have our fair share,” she said. “Giving us another burden, that would be too much already.”

Neighbor Linda Lam worried about shelter residents accosting children walking home after school and accused the city of concentrating such facilities in the neighborhood.

“Is it because we do not have enough registered voters or because not enough of us come out to votei” she said. “Or because we do not speak Englishi”

A rally in front of the shelter is planned for July 11 at 11 a.m.

“If we’re not persistent and if we look the other way, that’s when the neighborhood falls apart,” said Roe Daraio, president of the civic Citizens Of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together.

City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), whose district abuts the neighborhood, said she supported the residents in their fight and would support legislation giving neighbors input in the siting process for homeless shelters.

“Just because it’s as-of-right doesn’t mean it’s right,” she said.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jewalsh@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

Posted 6:32 pm, October 10, 2011
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