Tag Archives: Leroy Comrie

Families devastated by cuts to Jamaica senior center

| mchan@queenscourier.com


Some seniors in southeast Queens may soon lose their “friends.”

The Friendship Center — a program under the Jamaica Service Program for Older Adults (JSPOA) — relies heavily on funding from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) to support its rehabilitative programs. However, due to fiscal constraints, the agency said it could no longer support the program after July 1.

“It’s devastating. I just can’t even believe that they did this,” said Beverly Collier, executive director of JSPOA.

The Jamaica-based senior center offers free services to mentally and physically frail elders, who commonly suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and depression. In addition to providing meals and socialization activities, the center hosts psychiatric clinics once a week.

Friendship’s mental health programs originally received $443,000 annually from the DOHMH, Collier said, but funds were cut in half last year. While the other half was restored through community support and discretionary funds, Collier said rallying to raise 100 percent of funding this year would be near impossible.

“It would be very difficult to maintain Friendship for this population without the department’s money. And sending this population to your average run-of-the-mill center is not an alternative because they are not able to participate and socialize with mainstream seniors,” Collier said.

The center — which has been in existence since 1979 — is home to the 65 to 75 seniors who use the center daily, according to the executive director.

The decision to strip the center’s funding has devastated caregivers like Brenda Lacey, whose 93-year-old mother has been going to the center for close to 14 years.

“This has been our lifeline. This is [my mother’s] livelihood,” Lacey said. “I feel terrible because this might be my mother’s demise. For her not to have those people in her life, it would be like losing a family member for her.”

Lacey said she plans to look into other mainstream regular senior centers, but fears her mother will not adjust well to the changes.

“She might not be able to cope. The people wouldn’t understand her like they do at Friendship,” she said. “I’m just praying. It really needs to stay open.”

Eleanor Williams said she’s nervous her 73-year-old husband, Harold, may revert back to depression if the center closes.

“Before Friendship, he was at the point where he was suicidal. He was at the hospital several times at months on end,” Williams said. “Once he got to Friendship, it really brought him totally out of his shell. If you had seen this man a year ago, you would say it wasn’t the same person. Right now, I don’t know where to go from here.”

Meanwhile, Councilmembers Leroy Comrie and Ruben Wills said they are “aggressively working” to make sure Friendship keeps its doors open.

“This program is something we should be duplicating throughout the city — not cutting,” said Wills, whose grandmother used the center before her passing. “I don’t know what it is with these budget cuts, but the city seems to always target the most vulnerable population. It’s going too far at this point.”

Wills said he will be posting an online petition on his web site — www.rubenwills.com — later this week in addition to targeting different ways to secure funding.

“This is really unjust. This is really crazy,” he said.

Councilmember Leroy Comrie is standing up for non-profits

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

By Councilmember Leroy Comrie

As many in Queens will tell you, there are many non-profit organizations throughout the borough that have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Non-profit organizations have traditionally been exempt from paying property taxes on buildings they own and provide services in, like churches and non-profit affordable housing developers. However, the city has recently decided to require these organizations to verify their non-profit status or risk losing their property tax exemption. In some cases, these organizations would cease to exist without the property tax exemption. 

 Within the past month, the city has sent two notification letters with forms that the organizations are required to fill out to keep their exemption status. Out of the thousands of letters that were sent out, there are still 3,928 organizations that the city is waiting to hear from, and 738 of them are located Queens.

 For small organizations that do not have dedicated administrative staff, like many churches, this can be burdensome as they prepare to help people during this holiday season, especially considering the short notice they received – all verification forms are due December 5.

 One of them is Oneness Pentecostal Tabernacle on Linden Boulevard. They have a small staff but have been a staple in the community for many years. They recently fed people who were looking for a meal on Thanksgiving, and every Saturday they assess the needs of the neighborhood and give away food to the homeless. Unfortunately, they do not currently have a staff person dedicated to handling their finances, taking away time from the Pastors from running these programs. 

 While verification of these facilities may be necessary, it comes at a precarious time. It is during these hard economic times that members of our community seek out these services most. Yet, the city has suddenly required these organizations to verify their property tax exemption status and the eligibility of their facilities, and have only provided a small window of time to do so. Whether this was done intentionally or not to capture future revenues is uncertain. What is certain is that organizations will be required to exert what little time,  energy and resources they have in turning around these forms, instead of concentrating on providing critically needed services.

 The struggling economy has forced those of us in government to make tough decisions and many of these organizations have seen their funding dramatically slashed, at the same time, families in Queens have also had to tighten their belts, and many are desperately looking for any help they can get. With so many people unable to afford their mortgages, rent, health insurance, and other necessities, this is not the time to impose onerous information requests from organizations that help people in need.

 Accountability, transparency and accurate reporting are essential to ensure compliance, but there has to be a better methodology employed that allows organizations, particularly ones with very little staff to respond to these requests in an efficient and timely manner. Some 738 organizations in Queens have yet to respond to the city’s notice. While I work with my fellow City Council colleagues to reach out to these groups, I will not only advocate for more time to complete these forms, but ask why, while we are still struggling to get the economy moving again, we are suddenly burdening institutions that have been serving people for years by threatening to take their resources away?

 For organizations that need help obtaining the forms, or any other questions, please contact my office by calling (718) 776-3700.

 May everyone have a happy and safe holiday,

 Councilmember Leroy Comrie


Police arrest 15 year old for sex assaults

| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com


Police believe they have seized the sexual deviant that has terrorized southeast Queens for the past month – and he is not even out of high school.

The NYPD arrested a 15-year-old black male on October 23 who they consider to be responsible for the recent pattern of sexual attacks in the area.

“We’re confident that he is the person we’ve been looking for,” said Chief James Secreto, commanding officer of the NYPD’s Patrol Borough Queens South.

The Queens Special Victims Unit identified the perpetrator in a surveillance video they received from a store, during which the teenager was recognized wearing his distinct Polo jacket with a tiger on the back.

The suspect, who is a resident of Springfield Gardens, has already been identified by two victims whom he allegedly assaulted earlier this month in Laurelton.

The first incident occurred at approximately 1:18 a.m. on October 9, when the pervert approached a 40-year-old female, pushed her to the ground, repeatedly punched her in the face and attempted to rape her. The victim suffered a myriad of injuries, including severe bruising to her eyes, lacerations to the inside of her mouth, a nasal fracture requiring surgery, a laceration to her cheek requiring stitches, severe abrasions to both of her knees requiring debridement and contusions and swelling to the rear of her head.

According to the charges, the suspect also attacked a 24-year-old female on the evening of October 16, approaching her from behind and placing her in a headlock before repeatedly striking her in the back of the head and face. The victim reportedly suffered a lacerated lip, lacerations to the inside of her mouth, bruising, swelling and pain to her face and bruising and contusions to the rear of her head.

“The defendant is accused of prowling the streets and preying on vulnerable women,” said District Attorney Richard A. Brown. “The offenses that the defendant is accused of committing are crimes of violence that posed a serious threat to public safety and which warrant vigorous prosecution.”

The perpetrator has been charged with two counts of attempted rape, one count of attempted sexual abuse, one count of sexual abuse, two counts of sexually motivated assault, one count of assault with intent to cause physical injury and one count of sexually motivated assault with a weapon.

He was arraigned on October 24, and his bail was set at $150,000. The suspect’s next court appearance is scheduled for October 28.

Due to his age, the teenager faces two and two-thirds to eight years in prison if convicted as a juvenile offender.

The suspect is also being placed in numerous other lineups to investigate his connection to the string of incidents in the area.

There have been five sexual attacks in southeast Queens this month, the first occurring on September 22, when a 44-year-old female was sexually assaulted while she entered her home in Queens Village. Three of the five incidents were against women getting off the Q85 bus at 225th Street.

On October 13, a 20-year-old woman was raped in the vicinity of 108th Drive and Merrick Boulevard in Jamaica. The suspect has been described as a black male between the ages of 20 and 23, approximately 180 pounds, sporting a Caesar-style haircut, a black bandana, a black, waist-length, leather jacket and dark jeans.

The attacks have caused widespread public outrage and fear, and community leaders are emphasizing the importance of remaining safe by being aware.

“It is starting to get darker earlier and it is important that people know how to keep safe when walking home,” said Councilmember Leroy Comrie. “There have been five reported sexual assault cases this month alone, and we want to put a stop to this rising trend.”

A town hall meeting addressing the incidents was held on October 24 at the Robert Johnson Family Life Center in Jamaica.

During the meeting, NYPD Community Affairs and Special Victims Units of the 103rd, 105th and 113th Precincts answered questions and informed residents of safety awareness techniques.

Officials also referenced the closure of the Baisley Park Houses Community Center in Jamaica, which left kids with one less place to congregate safely.

“We need to respond as a community to try to take our children back,” said Comrie. “We can’t rely on our government.”

John Chiam of Crime Prevention urged people not to openly display cell phones or any technological devices while walking home and emphasized the importance of community involvement in assisting the police.

Dennis Chambers, the owner of Zen Masters Dojo on Linden Boulevard, led a group of children and women in a demonstration of self defense, and Safe Horizons, a victim assistance agency, provided people with whistles.

Additional reporting by Alexa Altman.