Westchester BOL Vice Chair Lyndon Williams to Hold Public Hearing on Homeless Shelter Planned for Mount Vernon

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 29, 2013

Contact: Tom Staudter | ThomasS@westchesterlegislators.com | 914-995-2819 (office) | 914-815-4462 (cell)

BOL Vice Chair Williams to Hold Public Hearing on Homeless Shelter Planned for Mount Vernon

County Executive Astorino is invited to attend the public hearing

White Plains, NY – Westchester County Board of Legislators (BOL) Vice Chairman Lyndon Williams (D-Mount Vernon) announced today that he will be holding a public hearing on Thursday, January 31, 2013 at 7 PM to hear from concerned residents about a new County-contracted homeless shelter to be run at the Friendship Worship Center on East Lincoln Avenue, Mount Vernon.

Williams also sent a letter to County Executive Rob Astorino today to express his many concerns about the decision to place the homeless shelter in a heavily trafficked school zone in Mount Vernon.

Dismayed that the Astorino Administration neglected to inform him of the decision in the first place, Williams notes in the letter that residents are worried about the shelter being too close to a busy school zone, and that Mount Vernon “cannot continue to be the dumping ground for all of the social problems of Westchester County, especially when considering that your Administration has eliminated from the 2013 County Budget many of the worthwhile programs that benefit Mount Vernon, like funding for at-risk youth initiatives that have been proven to be quite successful.”

Williams eagerly offers Astorino a solution to the problems being created by the County contracting with the Friendship Worship Center to run a homeless shelter: Give the funding to the Worship Center for the youth initiatives, and house the homeless instead at the former WestHELP site in Greenburgh, where 108 units formerly reserved for homeless county residents now sit vacant.

Last week a homeless man in Greenburgh died in the van he was living in.

In his letter, Williams also invites Astorino to the public hearing, which will be held at Holmes Elementary School, 195 North Columbus Avenue, Mount Vernon.

“The County Executive should understand this will not be like one of his scripted town hall meetings,” said Williams.

The full text of BOL Vice Chair Williams’s letter to County Executive Astorino is below:

Hon. Robert P. Astorino

Office of the County Executive

Westchester County Office Building

148 Martine Avenue

White Plains, N.Y.

Re: Shelter for the Homeless population sited for Lincoln Avenue in Mount Vernon

Dear Mr. Astorino:

After an article appeared in the Journal News two weeks ago mentioning a new Westchester County Emergency Shelter was being planned for location at Friendship Worship Center on East Lincoln Avenue in Mount Vernon, I received several inquiries from constituents concerning the placement of this shelter in a heavily trafficked school zone.

I informed my constituents that I was not aware that your Administration had decided to place the shelter at the Friendship Worship Center because you did not afford my office, as County Legislator of the district where the shelter was being sited, the common courtesy of a simple phone call, letter or email with advance notice.

Accordingly, I promised that I would hold a public hearing so that residents would have an opportunity to express their concerns. I intend to fulfill that promise.

Your Administration’s closing of homeless shelters around the county has created a serious displacement of the homeless population in Westchester County. I am sure that in your travels around the inner cities of Westchester you have witnessed a number of homeless persons pushing shopping carts, wandering aimlessly on sidewalks, and in the doorways of buildings. Recently, in Greenburgh, a homeless man died in the van he was living in.

Addressing the homeless problem is a County obligation that requires a comprehensive long-term, county-wide solution, not a patchwork of fixes in which the homeless population is targeted for tolerant communities like Mount Vernon. Moreover, many of the homeless persons are in need on mental health services, and yet your Administration has closed the County’s mental health clinics that provided such services to this vulnerable population.

Perhaps more than any other community in Westchester, Mount Vernon has done its part in cooperating with the County to address the problems of the poor and vulnerable. However, this City cannot continue to be the dumping ground for all of the social problems of Westchester County, especially when considering that your Administration has eliminated from the 2013 County Budget many of the worthwhile programs that benefit Mount Vernon, like funding for at-risk youth initiatives that have been proven to be quite successful.

I do not want to simply point to the problem without proposing a solution. Therefore, I suggest that the $120,000 awarded to Friendship Worship Center to house the homeless be used instead by the Church to run programs that serve at-risk youth in Mount Vernon.

The shelter program for the homeless, in turn, should be located in the county-owned housing located adjacent to the Westchester Community College campus in Valhalla. This facility consists of 108 units of housing that are presently available and unoccupied. The fully-equipped facility, which was constructed under the administration of former County Executive Andrew O’Rourke, was intended to house the homeless and that intention should be fulfilled by using it to solve the homeless problem in Westchester County.

It is truly a disgrace that housing specifically constructed to address the problem of homelessness remains vacant while these most vulnerable members of our communities are left to wander the streets, sleep in doorways of buildings and even die in cars in which they reside by necessity. Mr. Astorino, you have an opportunity to change the plight of the homeless by implementing this solution.

In your oath of office, you pledged to serve as County Executive for all of the residents of Westchester County, not just some of the residents. With this in mind, I am inviting you to personally attend a public hearing on Thursday, January 31, 2013 at 7:00 PM at the Holmes Elementary School, 195 North Columbus Avenue, Mount Vernon, to address the questions and concerns of the residents regarding placing a homeless shelter in their community adjacent to a school.

Very truly yours,

Lyndon D. Williams

County Legislator – 13th District (Mount Vernon)

cc: Mayor Ernest D. Davis

Mount Vernon City Council

Mount Vernon Board of Education

Bishop C. Nathan Ewers, President of the United Black Clergy of Westchester County

Mount Vernon Community-Based Organizations

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Bazzo 01/30/13

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