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Local activists return to protest hotel site

Community organizations and concerned advocates gathered last Saturday, July 10, outside an “unwanted” Holiday Inn hotel, located at 5244 Kings Highway in Brooklyn, which currently houses a reintegration program for those incarcerated near a prison. residential district.

Protesters from the Utica 2 Flatbush initiatives, the East 59th Street Block Association, the Flatlands Flatbush Civic Group (FFCG) and a group of counter-protesters rallied with determination outside the hotel. The rally from both sides kept the peace across the small street while protesting.

From the outside, the building still appeared to be a functional Holiday Inn.

A resident said she tried to make reservations just two weeks ago because she thought it was still a hotel. She said management told her “pipe problems” were the reason they were shutting down.

There are currently 30 people residing at the Brooklyn Holiday Inn as part of the

The Exodus Transitional Community (ETC) program, which helps formerly incarcerated men and women reintegrate into their communities, said Jennifer Kaake, ETC’s chief hotel officer.

This is not the first time that the community and policymakers have raised issues with the hotel’s site, the developer, Manish S. Savani, and its entrepreneur and owner, Tejpal Singh Sandhu. Community complaints go back almost four years, long before there were any structures on the ground or a halfway house.

In 2018, former Board member Jumaane Williams led the first fight against hotel development with Assembly member Helene Weinstein (D-District 41).

The concern then was that the hotel would become a “homeless shelter”, that is to say subsidized by the city as accommodation for the homeless, or a “hot sheet” hotel that would not serve the homeless. largely Caribbean community.

Target was building a store on the other half of the lot at the time. According to the community and officials, the hotel developers had not been as cooperative or collaborative with the community as the entrepreneurs at Target were. Target contractors took longer to address concerns about land use and environmental issues, such as underground reservoirs that may have leaked underground.

“The idea again is, you know, that we have to keep doing it, in our communities. It’s a bit disgusting, “said Hassan Bakriddin, district director of Community Board 17.” And we were there to do it because we knew they were going to come out and do this. That it would only take them a few years, what they normally do, when they build hotels in our community, is make them believe that they are saying “we are going to be a hotel” and, in Generally what happens is in a few years it becomes a city or statewide government grant program. “

City Councilor Farah Louis (D-District 45), who was then Williams’ assistant before being elected to replace him, recalled having fought the opening of a hotel in the district. “We knew it would end up turning into a shelter, not that we were against shelters, I was in favor of housing,” Louis said.

By 2020, the land had been converted into a small hotel on one side, a car dealership in the middle, and a Target and Smashburger with rooftop parking on the rest of the property.

Now the hotel has been named the site of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, which works with organizations, law enforcement, city agencies, nonprofits, and foundations to host programs like Exodus. .

Kaake confirmed that the program “was not aware of any of the potential environmental issues” at the hotel site.

Louis said, “The problem we have right now is that they’ve opened a reintegration program and a halfway house in the middle of the night. They did not inform the community. This is our problem. We have no problem housing people in our community. We have a problem with the model used by the mayor and his lack of communication to reach out to the community and have a conversation with the community. So we are not satisfied with that.

ETC vice president of policy and strategy Kandra Clark said the program intends to lead with love.

“And we don’t have a say in the site or the location of our sites. So we have a site in Fresh Meadows, Corona, Long Island City in Queens, Midtown Manhattan, ”Clark said. “This is our first location in Brooklyn and, you know, we’re all impacted so much ourselves. So we’ve gone through the system, we know what the barriers are, and our goal is just to provide services to people so that they can achieve stability.

Many rally participants or involved also said they had no direct issues with the Exodus program, but had strong reservations about 14 people convicted of “sex offenders” who would remain on the property in addition to the grudge. long standing against building owners. and the city’s lack of communication.

“And the point is, they came up with their signs, saying ‘we want housing,’ more affordable housing, and we thought, we should want the same. But we are not against Exodus or their executive director, ”said community activist Trisha Ocona. “I’ve actually heard very good things about their organization and how they have helped formerly incarcerated men, and I run a program that includes helping formerly incarcerated men. This is not a problem.”

Ocona said part of the problem is they are preparing to relocate the 14 people, but cannot until they find permanent housing.

Exodus directors Clark and Kaake did not immediately confirm or deny in the post that any of the people participating in the program were sex offenders who were in the hotel or had moved or will be moving to a loved one. to come up.

Clark said at the rally that they understand the community has a right to be educated and informed and that they insist on reaching out to community members and leaders.

“It’s really about creating community safety. So we need the community to do that, ”said Clark. “And today was actually really good because now we got to meet some of the other community board leaders and chairs. We’re going to form this community advisory board and really make sure that the community can stay as informed and that they can hold us accountable as well for making sure that we are moving people and not increasing crime or something like that in the neighborhood. .

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