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If Not Here, Where?

We understand why communities in Queens might be less than thrilled with the thought of hosting a homeless shelter. While some residents are people who are down on their luck, more often than not the homeless in the city shelters are battling alcoholism, drug addiction and mental illness. They do not make good neighbors.

It was not surprising then that Community Board 4, with the help of civic leaders from Elmhurst and nearby Maspeth, fought against city plans to open a homeless shelter in a building that until recently served as a convent for nuns working at St. John’s Hospital. They succeeded in getting the city to reconsider plans to open the homeless shelter.

So now where will the city house these homelessi There are neighborhoods in Queens not as well-organized, but there are no neighborhoods that will welcome a new homeless shelter. And like Elmhurst, most affordable locations believe they are already doing their fair share. A civic group calling itself the Communities Of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together, held a rally against the shelter, located across the street from housing for the mentally disabled.

But the question is always: If not here, wherei Ben Branham, a Katz aide, said, “We’re certainly very happy to see that these concerns have been listened to, but at the same time, we think it’s very much a priority that a proper location is found. I’m not sure to what extent we’ll play a role in that.”

It is not enough to say “not in our neighborhood.” A compassionate society must take responsibility to provide shelter for those who cannot provide for their own needs. Public officials and community organizations should feel a moral obligation to assist the city in finding appropriate locations if they want to insist facilities not be built in their own backyards.

There is a temptation on both sides to oversimplify the problem. Some neighborhoods do get more than a fair share of public facilities. And a poorly managed facility can have a negative impact on the neighborhood. The borough president should get more involved to make certain group homes and homeless shelters are spread out across the borough.

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