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Republican mayoral candidate Curtis Sliwa met with this paper’s editorial board last week to discuss a handful of city issues and how he would navigate them if elected.
One of the most pressing issues he touched on is the treatment of homeless people and emotionally disturbed persons in the city.
Sliwa can be seen on social media interacting with homeless people who are living on the streets and in the subways, and often calls out officials like Mayor Bill de Blasio and his democratic opponent, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, for not doing the same.
Sliwa believes that homeless outreach efforts have taken a turn for the worse as a result of the police being defunded by $1 billion, which he says severely impacted the Homeless Outreach Unit.
“Cops would go into the shelters, they would go into the hotels,” he said. “They would deal with EDPs and homeless people, more so than at the precinct level.”
Sliwa would close the 28 MICA shelters, which deal with mentally-ill and substance-abusing people, in the city.
“Those have to be closed,” he said. “You can’t have emotionally disturbed persons in shelters, they need care. They need to be in a mental healthcare hospital getting their meds.”
He supports reopening Camp LaGuardia upstate, a facility for the mentally ill and substance abusers that was closed during the Bloomberg administration.
Sliwa argues the camp would allow these individuals to overcome their substance abuse problems, as well as offer job training that may assist them with employment opportunities in the future.
Last month, Sliwa led a rally to celebrate local efforts that prevented the city from housing homeless people at the Holiday Inn Express in Maspeth, but said the issue of using hotels to house the homeless is an issue for many neighborhoods.
Sliwa said Human Resources Administration Commissioner Steven Banks “shoved these shelters down people’s throats” with no transparency or discussion. The argument is that the hotels allow homeless people who need shelter to remain in their community where they have a support system
But Sliwa says he has had conversations with homeless individuals living in hotel shelters far from where they are originally from.
The mayoral hopeful says he requested a meeting with Governor Kathy Hochul to discuss his opposition to legislation that would allow the state to buy hotels currently housing the homeless to make them permanent shelters. Sliwa says he has not heard back.
“A man or a woman, single, able-bodied should be able to have their own apartment, not have to live in a shelter in a dormitory-style way in which it’s not healthy for them,” he said. “They’re constantly being preyed on, it’s Darwinian.
“I’ve been in enough of them in which the shelter guards, whether they’re private security or Department of Homeless Services, have a no-touch policy,” Sliwa added “How are you going to control some people who are going to use force to try to shake down and extort other homeless people?”
From August 21 to August 29, the Forest Hills Green Team (FHGT) hosted multiple free events to engage community members on environmental initiatives.
The events included How to Take Care of Neighborhood Trees, Progressive Potluck Picnic, Composting 101, Tree Care and Flower Planting, Urban Farmer Primer, and Voter Registration Climate Protection.
Formed in 2018, the FHGT is an organization of volunteers dedicated to the environmental health of Forest Hills and the surrounding areas. The FHGT worked with the Parks Department and Democracy NYC to host the events, which included voter registration drives.
“Our goal is to encourage grassroots support in mitigating the challenges we face in dealing with climate change,” said Mark Laster, co-chair of the FHGT.
Past FHGT projects have include partnering with MELS High School to develop a school garden, partnering with Forest Hills High School to create a community garden, creating a compost scrap drop-off site, and beautifying and maintaining Yellowstone Boulevard.
Former advocacy projects include testifying in support for safe NYC shoreline protection and hosting presentations and meetings with politicians about supporting the OFF Fossil Fuels Act.
Laster said that the advocacy projects really come into play more than the on-the-ground work when trying to make a difference in the fight against climate change.
“I think there is a growing awareness of these issues in our area, but there still needs to be a continued push,” said Laster, “There are plans afoot for groups like 350 NYC to work together to try to promote climate legislation and organize rallies, and I think that’s how we’re beginning to see how we can really have an impact.”
More recently, the FHGT beautified Yellowstone Boulevard with funding from a grant they received in 2019.
“We had a big project in 2019 where we got a grant and we brought basically 30 volunteers and cleaned up that whole area,” said Laster. “We planted some trees and flowers, and we’ve been going back on a regular basis to maintain it and plant more.”
The FHGT also recently introduced a food drop-off site in MacDonald Park. The farmers market in the park used to have a composting site before the pandemic.
Once things started to open up again, there wasn’t enough funding for composting, so the FHGT jumped in to fill the gap with help from the Queens Botanical Garden. They started with one bin and now regularly fill four.
The FHGT used to have monthly meetings in the library, but when COVID hit they stopped and switched to virtual meetings. This was just one of the many adjustments they’ve had to make during the pandemic.
“Most of our activities were outdoors so we couldn’t do anything, because at the height of the pandemi] nobody could be outdoors,” said Laster, “When things began to open up again we began to do more outdoor events.”
The FHGT’s weekend voter registration event took place during the drop-off site hours.
“We just want people to realize how important it is to vote,” said Anisia Ayon, a FHGT volunteer who was present at the event, “We make people more aware about climate change, which is very important because it’s affecting a lot of things in our life. Our goal is to educate our community.”
Surrounding the compost bins and voter registration table were other volunteers from Friends of MacDonald Park. They were picking up litter, sweeping, and weeding.
“I want more funding for this park,” said Stephen Melnik, volunteer organizer and nine-year veteran of FHGT. “We need a new watering system, better and more garbage receptacles, and trees to be maintained. We’re just trying to get the park in order.”