Helter Shelter - JuniperCivic.com
Serving Middle Village and Maspeth since 1938.

Originally published in the March 2015 Juniper Berry Magazine

Helter Shelter

NYC's Department of Homeless Services (DHS) continues to operate in a manner that jeopardizes the safety of the most vulnerable of their clients as well as continuing to have a total lack of disregard for the communities in which they operate.

According to a Daily News article dated January 22, 2015, two violent sex offenders were living in the Crystal Family Residence (a former hotel recently converted to a homeless shelter) in the Bronx. One of the sex offenders, James Bryant, was convicted in 2004 of aggressive sexual assault of a seven year old girl in Texas and served ten years in a Texas prison, according to the article. Community leaders and local elected officials were outraged that violent sex offenders were placed in a shelter that was to be for families with children.

Sex offenders living with children

However, this is not the first time DHS has placed violent sex offenders in family shelters, placing the most vulnerable of shelter residents, homeless children, in harm's way. According to a study by State Senator Jeffrey D. Klein and Assemblyman Matt Titone dated August 2012, Sex Offenders in the NYC Homeless System – A Survey of New York City Family Shelters, the following was noted:

In August of 2007 there were six convicted level 2 and 3 sex offenders residing at six different family shelters in the Bronx, Manhattan and Brooklyn. Three of the six sex offenders were still living in the family shelters as of August 2012.

As of June 2011, a total of 11 sex offenders were found in five separate family shelter facilities. These 11 sex offenders had crimes ranging from sodomy in the first degree of a five and seven year old to statutory rape of a 16 year old.

From June 2011 to August 2012, nine registered sex offenders resided in five different family shelters, four of which having child related crimes including sexual abuse, sodomy and rape.

Of these 26 sex offenders, 17 of them had been convicted of crimes against children, yet DHS placed them in shelters that served families with children. The report also examined DHS' intake procedures revealing there is no criminal background checks performed on individuals applying for family shelter assistance and there is no requirements for individual shelters to check the sex offender registry when a new family or adult couple is admitted to the actual shelter. Furthermore, in the event DHS is aware of sex offender status, DHS is precluded by New York State social services law from notifying shelter residents and the surrounding community when a sex offender is placed in a shelter.

NYC's Reckless Policies

The aforementioned disturbing practices of DHS is one of the many reasons for the Glendale and Middle Village community's concern with NYC's and DHS' plan to place a shelter at 78-16 Cooper Avenue, Glendale As reported in the December 2014 Juniper Berry article City Homeless Shelter Plan in Disarray,the community expressed concerns regarding intake screening procedures and the possibility of housing of violent criminals and sex offenders at the proposed shelter. DHS' commissioner dismissed the concerns stating that The assertion that neighbors need to be 'protected' from families with children...is not productive dialogue.

Fast forward to 2015 and the sex offenders at the Crystal Family Residence...as a result of the work of community leaders and the local elected officials, the two sex offenders were removed from the Crystal Family Residence. However, James Bryant, one of the two sex offenders, was moved to the Westway Hotel Family Shelter on Astoria Boulevard in East Elmhurst, Queens. This shelter is run by the non-profit Women in Need, which primarily serves women and children. The shelter currently houses over 120 families with children. Moving a violent sex offender from one family shelter to another, especially one who committed a violent crime against a young girl, is absurd, reckless, and defies all logic and common sense.

No requirement to check sex offender registry

Based on the recent discovery of the two sex offenders in the Crystal Family Residence and DHS' irresponsible response to concerns by moving a sex offender from one family shelter to another, State Senator Klein once again investigated to determine if sex offenders were currently residing in other family shelters. According to Senator Klein's February 2015 report Uncovering Sex Offenders in the NYC Family Shelter System eleven sex offenders (including James Bryant) are currently residing in family shelters. Eight of the eleven sex offenders have committed crimes against children ranging in age from 5 to 15 years old. In addition, intake procedures have not changed with respect to a lack of criminal background checks and no requirement to check the sex offender registry when placing individuals in family shelters. Due to the absence of common sense and good judgment on the part of DHS, Senator Klein is currently pushing much needed legislation to prohibit the placing of violent sex offenders in shelters that serve families with children.

It is clear from DHS' historical and current actions and inactions, they do not make decisions in the best interest of their most vulnerable clients, they do not give any consideration to concerns of residents in the communities in which the shelters operate, nor are they held accountable for their reckless actions.

Glendale Middle Village Coalition Update

The Coalition's Article 78 to force the city to take the required hard look at the impact of the plans to place a large scale homeless shelter at 78-16 Cooper Avenue is proceeding. The lawsuit was filed mid October and the city provided a written response on December 11, 2014. Their response was consistent with their original Environmental Assessment Statement dated June 2014 as it lacked solid evidence and lacked actual factual data to support their assertions. The Coalition's attorney has sent in a written rebuttal on January 8, 2015. Oral arguments are scheduled for April 8, 2015. The members of the Coalition will be working closely with the attorney to prepare for the oral arguments. In addition, the Coalition is exploring other legal actions and currently has another attorney reviewing the feasibility of a federal lawsuit. The Coalition is also in the process of organizing another fundraiser, similar to the October 24, 2014 event held at Yer Man's Irish Pub in Glendale, to ensure adequate funds to support the current and potential future legal actions. To date, the Coalition has raised approximately $75,000 from civic organizations, concerned citizens and business owners. If you have any questions about the Coalition's efforts or wish to help, please e-mail glendalemvcoalition@gmail.com.

Should you wish to make a contribution to further the Coalition's efforts, online contributions can me made at http://www.gofundme.com/Cooper-Avenue-Shelter. Checks can be mailed to Glendale Middle Village Coalition c/o Middle Village Chamber of Commerce, 79-47 Metropolitan Avenue, Middle Village, NY 11379. Checks should be made payable to Glendale/Middle Village Coalition.