State Sen. John Liu (D-Bayside) isn’t bad with numbers. He majored in mathematical physics, worked for 15 years as an actuary at PricewaterhouseCoopers before entering politics and commanded a small army of accountants as city comptroller.
So when the de Blasio administration testified that its budget for the Department of Homeless Services is $2.1 billion and $1.25 billion of that was spent specifically on housing the undomiciled, Liu did some simple math.
The city’s shelter population fluctuates around 61,000. Which, given the $1.25 billion figure, he calculated is about $20,500 for each of the homeless individuals in the city’s beds.
The senator, joined by City Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside) and Assemblyman Daniel Rosenthal (D-Flushing), spoke to the press last Thursday outside 127-03 20 Ave. in College Point, where the city plans in September to open up a shelter for 200 single men run by Yonkers-based nonprofit Westhab.
A de Blasio administration official had told neighborhood residents at a contentious December town hall meeting that the city’s contract to operate the planned 20th Avenue shelter is roughly $9 million per year to house the 200 men.
“Well, that equates to $45,000 per bed,” said Liu, adding that the cost far exceeds the $20,000 average. “In fact, it’s more than double what the city is paying.”
De Blasio has said his fiscal year 2020 preliminary budget was designed to cut costs, the freshman senator pointed out.
When the 20th Avenue shelter plan was announced last year, hundreds of residents told the city to back off from it at protests. Liu, Rosenthal and Vallone have also been vocal in their opposition, telling the de Blasio administration that the site is extremely inappropriate for a shelter.
And given the city’s estimated cost for the contract, the three lawmakers want answers.
More than 100 people rallied last Saturday in a biting wind on the hilltop at 127-03 20 Ave. in College Point, where the city plans to house 200 homeless men.
The subject of a months-long protest campaign by area residents, the proposal is for a former factory building close to multiple schools. North of 4,200 signatures as of Wednesday had been gathered for a Change.org petition seeking to stop the shelter, which is set to start operating in September.
“Here’s the thing about College Point. It gets dumped on all the time,” said Jennifer Shannon, a neighborhood resident.
Shannon, who was credited by rally attendees for launching community opposition to the shelter, maintains that the shelter is just the latest in a long line of public facilities to be located in what residents see as a family neighborhood. For example, the NYPD Academy, a city Department of Sanitation waste transfer station and a state Department of Motor Vehicles are all sited in College Point.
She is a member of the College Point Civic and Taxpayers Association and A Better College Point, two groups with other members at the rally. Shannon has also raised money for a potential lawsuit that would seek to stop the shelter plan.
Danger and inappropriate siting for the shelter residents are the two themes that were repeatedly reflected in the signs held up at the rally and mentioned by speakers.
“No one asked us,” one placard said. Others read, “Protect Our Families Before They Get Hurt,” “De Blasio doesn’t care about our children’s safety” and “With 3,000 school children in a mile? No way! Not here!”