Weekly Rallies Continue Against Bloomberg Homeless Move-Ins; Thompson Joins Fight
When the city quietly transformed a brand-new Bronx building into an emergency homeless shelter in August, it incited a lawsuit and a blitz of rallies. Last Saturday -- the fifth in a series of Saturday protests that, organizers say, with continue up through the election -- more than two dozen angry residents filled a pen set up near the mayor's Pelham Bay campaign office. "No hearing, no shelter," they chanted, "No hearing, no votes."
A local business group involved in the protests is suing the Department of Homeless Services, and on Thursday comptroller and mayoral candidate Bill Thompson filed a claim asking the court to allow him to intervene in the matter between them and DHS...
Back in August, the Department of Homeless Services moved homeless families into a building at 1564 St. Peter's Avenue in Westchester Square, a mile from Saturday's protest. The agency struck a per-diem arrangement with the building's landlord, without soliciting community input or conducting a fair share analysis, citing an emergency need.
With a record number of citizens facing homelessness, protest organizers criticized the Bloomberg administration's homeless policies and said the surge in the population would likely lead to a repeat of the St. Peter's Avenue shelter in neighborhoods throughout the city. (A Coalition for the Homeless report released this week found that over 39,000 New Yorkers are homeless -- a 45 percent increase since the Mayor took office.)
Pprotest organizer Sandi Lusk (pictured) of the Westchester Square/Zerega Improvement Organization denounced the mayor's subsidized housing policies. She said the removal of housing vouchers only exacerbated the city's homeless problem.
"It's far beyond the scope of this," she said, indicating the protest. She added it would only be a matter of time before the city "leapfrogged regulations" again. (The Coalition's report predicts thousands more homeless families come December.)
John Bonizio, president of the Westchester Square Merchants Association -- which financed the lawsuit against DHS -- agreed.
"This is not just about St. Peter's Avenue," he said. " It's not just about a shelter. And it is certainly not about the homeless or people of this area not wanting to have shelters in their neighborhood. It's a citywide problem that's going to get worse after the election."
The lawsuit, in which Bonizio and Lusk are plaintiffs, seeks to close down the shelter because it was opened without going through the Uniformed Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) or a "fair share" analysis. Over 20 social service providers saturate the area surrounding the site.
DHS also pays what opponents consider an exorbitant $2,700 a month for each unit. The agency pays the property's landlord $90 a day, and the landlord subsequently pays Basic Housing Inc. $6 to provide social services.
This led Comptroller Thompson to file his claim on Thursday. He had already ordered DHS to cease payments to the landlord in September, and in court papers Thompson reiterated that the agency had no right to make payments since no contract existed.
While on the campaign trail in the Bronx on Friday, Thompson condemned the out-of-contract arrangements, since in 2003 an investigation by his office found that DHS violated procurement requirements with scatter-site housing it provided to homeless citizens in apartment buildings and hotels.
"The Mayor had promised that that's not the way that things would happen," Thompson said. "He said he would not do that. Again he broke his commitment."