New QBG head looks to take garden to next level

By Jessica Meditz

Evie Hantzopoulos is the new executive director of the Queens Botanical Garen. (Photo: Eryn Hatzithomas)

Evie Hantzopoulos began her role as the executive director of the Queens Botanical Garden in late January, just in time to see her favorite plant, the red dogwood, in its prime.
In the same way the dogwood’s stems turn a beautiful bright red in the winter, Hantzopoulos brings a bright new perspective to the 39-acre oasis in Flushing.
She fills the shoes of Susan Lacerte, who held the position for 27 years and brought the garden back to life during a time of crisis.
“I’m super grateful for the work Susan has done, like helping to make the new Visitor and Administration Building happen and expanding the collections,” said Hantzopoulos. “Now I think about how I can build on her incredible work and honor the work that she did, and then really work with the staff and the community to take the garden to the next level.”
Originally from Massachusetts, Hantzopoulos lives in Astoria with her husband and three children, and has called Queens her home for nearly 24 years.
Although her background is not in environmental horticulture, Hantzopoulos feels passionately about gardening and environmental causes.
“My parents were both farmers when they lived in Greece, and they brought a lot of that knowledge with them when they came here,” she said. “I garden in my backyard, and when my kids were younger I helped bring gardens to their schools.
“I know a bit as an amateur, but I’m going to be learning a lot in terms of horticulture and working in the garden,” she added. “I’m very grateful we have experts here who really know their stuff.”
Hantzopoulos has extensive experience managing nonprofits. She served has worked at Global Kids for the last 25 years, the final 11 years serving as executive director.
Global Kids is a nonprofit organization that works with kids in all five boroughs, focusing on youth development, civic engagement and global education in underserved communities.
In addition to developing the organization’s programs and expanding its outreach to different cities, Hantzopoulos spent time mentoring educators and teaching workshops.
“Children add a perspective to the conversation that is really meaningful and critical,” she said. “Everyone questions how much they know, but children have thoughts, ideas, experiences and viewpoints that should be listened to, because a lot of times it’s their future we’re talking about.”
Hantzopoulos is excited to continue her journey as an educator through her new role at the Queens Botanical Garden, especially with a $34 million state-of-the-art Education Center on the horizon.
The building, which is expected to break ground in the fall, will allow staff to serve more than double the amount of people through expanded programming.
“Right now, our education building is not serving our needs,” said Hantzopoulos. “It’s very limited.
“Also during COVID, there’s limitations on how many people we can have in the building,” she added. “This new building is going to be designed to be adaptable, with indoor and outdoor classrooms.”
Hantzopoulos has been a member of Community Board 1 since 2010, and also co-founded Frontline Foods Queens, which distributes meals to frontline workers, NYCHA residents and food pantries.
She is a founding member of Astoria Mutual Aid Network, Astoria Urban Ecology Alliance, and 31st Avenue Open Street.
She recently ran in the Democratic Primary for City Council in Astoria.
“The experience was certainly different than anything I’ve ever done before, and I learned a lot,” Hantzopoulos said of the campaign. “Now I’m figuring out how to serve the city and community in a different capacity.”
Hantzopoulos acknowledged that although the garden looks a bit different during the colder months, it is still a serene escape from the chaos of Flushing’s busy streets.
She feels optimistic about the warmer months to come, as indicated by the 2,500 people who attended the recent Lunar New Year celebration at the garden.

Evie Hantzopoulos speaks at the garden’s recent Lunar New Year celebration. (Photo: Josh Feinberg)

But most of all, Hantzopoulos is grateful to be able to wake up every morning and go to work at such a beautiful place.
“I wanted to pick a place where I could fully get behind its mission and potential, as well as somewhere that I could marry my different interests,” she said.
“I found a great group of people and a beautiful space that so many people love,” she added. “Now, it’s about working with the team to figure out how to build upon the foundation and really showcase just how special of a place it is.”

Street will honor Bangladeshi community in Queens

The intersection of Homelawn Avenue and Hillside Avenue was co-named “Little Bangladesh Avenue.”

The intersection of Homelawn Avenue and Hillside Avenue in Jamaica will forever be known as “Little Bangladesh Avenue.” The co-naming ceremony took place on International Mother Language Day.

Dozens of Bangladeshi businesses line Hillside Street, from the savory sweets at Dhaka Sweets to the authentic Bangladeshi cuisine spots Ghoroa and Sagar.

Councilman Jim Gennaro said that the Bangladeshi community is an example of people who live in peace and love their faith and families.

“Today is a great day for the country of Bangladesh and for all the citizens of the world,” said Gennaro. “They are a model community that I really embrace and want to thank in a very special way for what they do for New York City.”

With both American and Bangladeshi flags waving in the backdrop, the new street sign was revealed to a chorus of cheers.

“We’re gonna remember this day,” said Gennaro. “We’ll be able to tell our kids and our grandchildren and our grandkids.”

Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar, the first South Asian woman elected to statewide office, said the event hit close to home.

“In the 1970s, my parents immigrated and they settled on Hillside Avenue,” she said. “It’s special that I get to stand here today at the naming of Little Bangladesh Avenue. We have so many leaders in this community who are here today. I stand on your shoulders.

“The sky’s the limit for our community because I want to see a Bangladeshi-American as mayor,” Rajkumar added. “I want to see a Bangladeshi-American as senator and a Bangladeshi-American as president. We have just begun, and with all of the Bangladeshi youth in my office right now that we’re bringing up, it’s going to happen very soon.”

Mayor’s new subway safety plan goes into effect

By Matthew Fischetti

A new subway safety plan went into effect on Monday, but homeless advocates fear the “crisis mode” plan doesn’t go far enough to deal with the root causes of the problem.

Mayor Eric Adams announced the initiative as violence in the city’s subway system is on the rise. Even since the Friday announcement, there have been a series of violent attacks.

The plan includes outreach teams for the homeless, cross-agency teams that include clinicians and police, increased police presence and enforcement, and increased availability of safe haven and stabilization beds.

While the mayor’s plan tries to strike a balance between assuring public safety while also helping homeless individuals, advocates say the plan leans too heavily on public safety without getting homeless people the adequate resources they need.

“There are aspects of this report that have an encouraging amount of information, that they’re aware of the problem and some of the root causes of the problem, but the solutions they offer are less about addressing those root causes and are more directed to a crisis mode,” Dr. Deborah Padgett, a professor and researcher on homelessness at NYU Silver, said in an interview.

Dr. Padgett said that models like converting hotels into supportive housing, as former-mayor Bill de Blasio did early in the pandemic, would be one of the primary solutions to addressing homelessness.

Dr. Padgett published a study in 2021 examining the effectiveness of these programs, and in New York found improvements in “general medical and mental health, personal hygiene, feelings of safety (from COVID-19 as well as violence), improved sleep, diet and nutrition, easier access to public assistance such as food stamps, and other advantages of having a stable address for applying for a job.”

The study also cites data from Seattle, where similar programs were enacted, that showed it increased transitions to permanent housing and keeping appointments with health care providers.

“And for those of us who are advocates, it’s not a good sign to increase the police presence, because it’s ultimately going to end up probably criminalizing more than it’s actually going to help homeless persons get off the street or out of the subways,” Dr. Padgett said. “And without someplace for them to go other than crowded shelters, this problem is not going to be resolved.”

Part of the subway safety plan includes joint state and city “Safe Options Support Critical Time Intervention” teams.

Critical Time Intervention was a model developed in the 80’s as a phase-approached of engagement with vulnerable populations to help them adequately transition through periods of life and sustain success after they graduate from a nine-month program.

While the state and city teams utilize the name Critical Time Intervention, one of the creators of the model says the plan falls short of actually achieving it.

“We developed critical time intervention and that does work, but you need somewhere for people to go to help people make a transition,” said Dr. Ezra Susser, director of the Psychiatric Epidemiology Training program at Columbia University. “And if there’s nowhere to transition to, then it’s not really what critical time intervention is.”

Dr. Susser’s model of critical time intervention has proven to be very successful. In a randomized trial at 18 months after the original project started, time spent being homeless was reduced by two-thirds.

The study also found that it was more cost-effective than typical measures.

While the subway safety plan will increase the availability of 140 Safe Haven Beds and nearly 350 Stabilization Beds in 2022, something Dr. Suzzer emphasizes is a good measure, he believes it falls short of really stemming the tide of homelessness.

According to the Coalition for the Homeless, there were over 48,000 homeless people in New York City in December 2021.

On the campaign trail, Adams introduced a plan to convert 25,000 hotel rooms into supportive housing for the homeless, but there have been problems making the proposal a reality.

Nonprofits that provide services in supportive housing have taken anywhere from six months to two years to get reimbursed, according to Gothamist. There have also been issues with zoning regulations.

“The city and state need to make a big investment now in order to make a dent in the problem,” said Dr. Susser.

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