Wrong Place for the Mentally Ill

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The question is simple: Would you be concerned if you found out the city was planning to open a building on your block that would house 50 mentally ill homeless people?

And you would expect your local elected officials to fight the move tooth and nail? It wouldn’t matter if you lived in a multimillion?dollar estate in Douglaston or one of the borough’s public housing projects.

You wouldn’t want 50 mentally?ill people wandering each day down your block. And no one could fault you.

Sadly, that is the situation the people living in Astoria Houses in western Queens are facing. The city Department of Health wants to allow Urban Pathways, a nonprofit, to open a facility that would house 50 mentally ill people.

City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. said the project would only hurt a neighborhood that has been struggling to develop.

“It doesn’t have a bank, a subway or a supermarket,” he said. “Now, developers are finally becoming interested in the neighborhood and the state wants to cram a mentally ill homeless facility into it. That’s not right.”

Vallone noted that the proposed neighborhood for the project does not have adequate treatment programs or community centers that could assist facility residents. There would be staff at the facility, but the residents would be free to roam the streets.

State Assemblyman Michael Gianaris said a similar attempt to open a shelter for the homeless at East Elmhurst’s Westway Motor Inn proved a disaster.

Why can’t these people be sheltered in one of the many facilities for the mentally ill on Ward’s Island? Although the island has a secure hospital, it also has shelters designed for this purpose. Residents in these shelters get a place to sleep and food and are free to come and go. Counseling and medical care are also available.

The island is accessible by bus from Queens and Manhattan and is set apart from other city residents.

This is not a question of compassion, but of common sense.

Updated 7:09 pm, September 14, 2011
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