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Eastern Queens elected officials host rally against incoming asylum-seeker tent shelter at Creedmoor

Jul. 27, 2023 By John Schilling

Eastern Queens elected officials gathered with constituents inside Building #4 of the Services Now For Adult Persons (SNAP) in Queens Village on Thursday afternoon to voice their opposition to the incoming asylum seeker tent shelter on the nearby campus of the state-owned Creedmoor Psychiatric Center.

The rally came just one day after Mayor Eric Adams’ announcement that the city will construct and open a Humanitarian Emergency Response and Relief Center (HERRC) in Creedmoor’s adjacent parking lot for 1,000 single adult men “seeking asylum.”

Eastern Queens Councilwoman Linda Lee, who led the press conference, told attendees her opposition is all about practicality.

“This is not about xenophobia…but we have a crisis that we’ve been dealing with on the city level since last year,” Lee said. “We have to look at this in terms of how is this making sense? How are we going to address this issue? Is Creedmoor the site? No.”

Following Lee, state Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky added that Creedmoor is “not a place to dump a thousand people,” pointing to the building’s infrastructure as a disadvantage to the asylum seekers and calling it “a lose-lose situation.”

“The infrastructure is just not there. The air conditioning, the heating, everything,” Stavisky said. “The asylum seekers are being put into what I suspect, and what I think we all suspect, is an inhumane situation.”

During the rally, Assemblyman Edward C. Braunstein touched on the geography of Creedmoor in relation to the rest of the city, referring to the surrounding area as “a transit desert.”

“There’s nothing here,” Braunstein said. “The asylum seekers who are going to be staying here will have nothing, nowhere to go, nowhere to get services, and quite frankly, I don’t think that they’re going to even want to be here.”

Assemblyman David I. Weprin added to Braunstein’s point by emphasizing the need to address the crisis but reiterating opposition to erecting an asylum seeker tent shelter on the Creedmoor campus.

“We all recognize the problem and want to help the asylum seekers, but this is not the location,” Weprin said. “This site does not make any sense.”

SNAP CEO and President Paola A. Miceli expressed concerns over how the tent shelter at Creedmoor would affect SNAP’s service to the community’s elders, recalling how long it took the center to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and saying that some people are now “afraid” to visit as a result of the news about Creedmoor.

According to Miceli, SNAP delivers approximately 300 meals a day to the community’s home-bound elderly population and if people stop visiting the center for services, they will lose contracts through the city unless they get their numbers up. With an expected influx of trucks in the area to construct and supply Creedmoor’s tent shelter, Miceli shared her concerns about displacement at SNAP and its ability to meet both the necessary numbers and needs of those they serve.

“We have a very special operation here,” Miceli said. “These are credible, operational issues that could put SNAP out of business, and none of us want to see that.”

Prior to Thursday’s rally, Creedmoor first emerged as a potential location for a tent shelter earlier this month on July 15 when rumors started to circulate that the mayor was considering both the Queens Village campus and Aqueduct Racetrack in South Ozone Park. At the time, City Hall spokesperson Kate Smart declined to comment on the locations, only confirming that “all options are on the table.”

Two days later, South Queens Councilwoman Joann Ariola announced that the Aqueduct Racetrack was “off the table” at a rally outside the property on July 17. This announcement, however, was seemingly disputed by Queens Borough President Donovan Richards on July 19 at a rally outside Community Board 13’s office on Jamaica Avenue when Richards told the crowd there was some “confusion” and that “neither site is off the table,” according to the mayor’s office.

While Richards was not in attendance at Thursday’s rally due to a recent trip to Africa, he reacted to the Creedmoor announcement the day before by calling for better communication between the city and affected Queens communities.

“Queens will always open its arms to any and all people wishing to seek refuge and build a better life here…But that openness should not be confused with naiveté,” Richards said in a statement. “The success of this effort hinges upon an efficient, constant channel of communication between the state, city and borough, as well as a community-informed decision-making process around ensuring the needs of our asylum seekers are met and the concerns of area residents are heard.”

Shortly before the rally inside SNAP, another rally hosted by the Queens Village Republican Club started outside the campus. Among the attendees at this rally were elected hopefuls Bernard Chow and Jonathan David Rinaldi, the Republican challengers for Lee and James Gennaro City Council seats in November, respectively.

Queens

City Council Republican challenger Bernard Chow speaks at the Queens Village Republican Club rally.Photo by John Schilling

This rally’s attendees started chanting “No Tent City” and held up signs that included “Send them back,” “Eric Adams doesn’t care about us,” “Our children matter,” and “Let your neighbors know what’s going on.”

Right before the start of the rally inside the SNAP building, Rinaldi made his way into the room and began yelling about Local Law 97, a piece of legislation enacted by the city in 2019 that looks to set limits on greenhouse gas emissions starting in 2024.

“They’re going to fine all of you $30,000 next year,” Rinaldi yelled as he was escorted out of the room by security. “Ask her about that, ask her about that.”

In closing remarks, Stavisky emphasized the need to be a united front in opposing the tent shelter at Creedmoor, pointing to a recent meeting with Community Board 13 in which both the elected officials and community members spoke their opposition “with one voice.”

“We are a welcoming community, but there has to be rules in place, and that’s not the case here at Creedmoor,” Stavisky added. “We have to remain united together so that we can fight this together.”

Before the rally ended, Lee told those in attendance that she, as well as other local elected officials, plan to meet with the mayor’s office on Friday for more details about the Creedmoor tent shelter and expressed frustration that the community and its representatives were not involved in any conversations with the mayor’s office leading up to the announcement.

“Right now, we know nothing,” Lee said. “We need more transparency…This location is not it, and that is something all of us agree on.”

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