Westchester County Legislator Lyndon Williams.
Posted February 7, 2013on:
The Board of Legislators Celebrate Black History & Heritage — Monday, February 25th.
Follow-up to the Public Hearing on the Homeless Shelter.
County Executive Robert Astorino quietly signed a contract last month to place a Westchester County Emergency Homeless Shelter at the Friendship Worship Center on East Lincoln in the middle of a residential district and school zone. This contract never came before the Board of Legislators for approval.
My office did not receive the courtesy of a phone call, email, or letter from the Astorino Administration before they opened this Shelter in this residential neighborhood, which is heavily trafficked by children from three nearby public schools. The homeless shelter shares the same space as a charter school and day care center. Nowhere else in Westchester County are drop-in Shelters placed in the same building as a school, day care center, and elementary school zones.
This blatant disregard for our community cannot be tolerated.
This Shelter must be closed immediately and relocated to a more suitable place.
Mr. Astorino placed this 18-bed Shelter to accommodate homeless persons from throughout Westchester County, many of whom are seriously in need of mental health and other services that he eliminated from the county budget. The County Executive did not give Mount Vernon residents the respect of a public hearing before opening the shelter, and when invited to hear the concerns of residents, he chose not to attend and sent his chief of staff instead.
The Friendship Worship Center receives $120,000 to use its facility as a Shelter.
On Thursday, January 31, 2013, I held a public hearing at Holmes Elementary School. The hearing was attended by over 300 concerned Mount Vernon residents, homeowners, community leaders, and parents of children attending nearby schools, as well as the day care center and charter school run at the Worship Center.
As expressed by many of you, Mount Vernon is not insensitive to the plight of the homeless. We have done, and continue to do, our part to care for the most vulnerable residents of this county. However, we cannot continue to be the dumping ground for all of the County’s social problems, especially when vital resources for our community have been slashed or eliminated by the Astorino Administration.
The homeless problems that now necessitate this emergency shelter were made worse by decisions of Mr. Astorino to close homeless shelters in other communities, shut down mental health clinics and eliminate homeless prevention programs. Many individuals from this very same homeless population were served by the OASIS Shelter in New Rochelle until Mr. Astorino closed that shelter two years ago despite pleas from the operators and New Rochelle officials that his decision was inhumane and would displace the homeless population.
Mr. Astorino can address the immediate homeless problem by housing persons in 108-unit county-owned apartments located on the former WestHELP site in Valhalla. It is a disgrace that 108 units of permanent housing constructed for homeless persons now remain vacant while individuals sleep in doorways, in cars, and on the sidewalks of this county. This happens because Mr. Astorino refuses to use the property for its intended purpose and would rather “serve” the homeless through “drop in” accommodations in school zones in Mount Vernon.
It was my duty to afford Mount Vernon residents an opportunity to be heard last Thursday night. I am proud my community turned out on a cold night to voice their concerns.
But I was disappointed to read in the February 1, 2013 edition of Newsday an article titled, “Mount Vernon bishop chastises legislator over hearing.” The article quotes Bishop Collie Edwers, pastor of Friendship Worship Center, as saying: “Edwers vowed to make Williams pay a political price for his stance.”
I am not concerned about threats of political repercussions from Bishop Edwers, County Executive Astorino or anyone else for taking a stance to protect children, my constituents, and the homeless and vulnerable population in this county. I have taken this stance because it is absolutely moral and correct thing to do. My position is not influenced by money or any personal financial benefit.
Therefore, I look forward to whatever “political price” they plan to make me pay for my stance.
Westchester County Legislator