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Queens’ church shelters shut doors as city tightens belt

Where once there were about 10 beds for homeless men in the basement of St. Andrew Avellino Church in Flushing, there is now empty space.

For more than 2 12 decades, people hard on their luck slept there, ate warm dinners provided by volunteers and grabbed a quick breakfast before heading off to work.

Now since the city has eliminated funding for 24 faith−based organizations through the five boroughs, including 13 in Queens, the homeless who once found shelter in places like St. Andrew have no choice but to go to the large city−run shelters that City Councilman Tony Avella (D−Bayside) called dangerous.

“At the large−scale shelters, there’s very little supervision, there are issues with security, people’s belongings get stolen, they say they’re abused,” said Avella, who along with the faith−based shelters’ volunteers and directors protested the city cuts at St. Andrew last Thursday.

Last fall the city shut down the 24 shelters run as part of the Partnership for the Homeless’ emergency shelter network in order to run a more efficient shelter system, city Homeless Services Department officials said in an interview in November. City officials did not return phone calls for comment.

Shelters no longer up and running include Blessed Sacrament in Jackson Heights, St. Nicholas of Tolentine in Jamaica, Immaculate Conception in Astoria, Sacred Heart in East Glendale, Church on the Hill in Flushing, Community United Methodist in Jackson Heights, Embury United Methodist in Queens Village, Redeemer Episcopal in Long Island City, Sacred Heart in Bayside, St. Kevin’s in Flushing, St. Teresa Avila in South Ozone Park, St. Teresa R.C. in Sunnyside, and Trinity Lutheran in Long Island City.

Protesters at St. Andrew Avellino said it makes little sense for the city to shut down the shelters at a time when the number of homeless families reached a 25−year high in November, with 1,343 homeless families entering the city’s shelter system during that month alone, according to the Coalition for the Homeless. Those statistics are the most recent available from the organization, which compiled the data from a city Homeless Services Department report.

According to city data, homelessness rose 13 percent from the end of May to the end of November.

“Where are the men who came to us?”asked Joe Murphy, coordinator of the homeless program at St. Andrew. “We know they’re not going to the massive shelters. The men I spoke with said they’d rather be riding the subways instead of going to the armories.”

Volunteers criticized the city for eliminating funding to the homeless program since it was run primarily by volunteers.

“There and hundreds and hundreds of volunteers who are sympathetic to these people in distress,” said Monsignor Joseph Finnerty, who heads St. Andrew. “These volunteers are warm an compassionate and welcomed people on cold nights.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e−mail at agustafson@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 174.

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