At about 11 a.m., roughly 120 people got off two coach buses and descended upon the street. When they arrived at 1460 East 26th Street, they began blowing whistles and holding up signs.
The protest was directed at David Levitan, one of the owners of Liberty One Group, a “fully-integrated real estate investment company” that acquires, develops and manages properties throughout the country, according to the firm’s website.
According to Glendale civic leader Kathy Masi, Levitan is behind a proposed homeless shelter at 78-16 Cooper Avenue. She alleged that his company has also worked out deals for several other shelters in “middle-class neighborhoods” in New York City.
“He has turned homelessness into a business,” Masi said, calling him a kingpin, “with no consideration to how they’re going to be cared for.”
Throughout the protest, neighbors stepped out to see the commotion, and many began recording videos.
“He’s not home,” one neighbor said to the demonstrators. “I wanted to sleep, but I guess that’s not happening.”
Masi said the purpose of the weekend protest was for Levitan’s neighbors to understand “what they’re going to be dealing with.” She said this protest is “the first one,” with plans for more in coming weeks.
“This is where we’re starting, but it’s not where we’re ending,” she said. “We’ll be back to Brooklyn.”
The group of protesters weren’t just from Glendale and Middle Village, two neighborhoods that would be impacted by a shelter at Cooper Avenue. They were also joined by Ozone Park residents, who are also fighting their own battle in their neighborhoo against a proposal to house 113 mentally ill men.
Sam Esposito, who went on a weeks-long hunger strike against the shelter in Ozone Park, said he stands in solidarity with the residents of Glendale.
“They came to our rally and supported us,” he said. “They wanted to do this, and I support them.”
Esposito noted that Liberty One Group is also behind the shelter in Ozone Park, though he said Levitan is not directly involved. Rather than targeting the owner, Esposito said Ozone Park residents are instead protesting the city’s decision to put a shelter there.
“Just to let the mayor know that we want to sit and work out a solution We have to work together,” he said. “We know there’s a homeless problem, we respect that. We’re asking for a change of venue.”
One Glendale protester who asked not to be named said she wants Levitan’s neighbors to know “what he’s actually doing” with the homeless shelter industry.
“It’s all about they money that he gets for the homeless shelter,” she said. “He’s the one making a profit, he doesn’t care what happens after with the homeless people.”
She added that nobody “wants distraction in their neighborhood,” but she, like the other protesters, felt the need to voice their concerns.
“That’s all we’re trying to do,” she said. “We’re not trying to mess anybody up here.”
As the protesters continued picketing on the block, some neighbors made comments about the demonstration. Civic leader Mike Papa, who was carrying a blow horn, engaged in a heated exchange with a neighbor who claimed to be a community board member.
A police officer had to walk the neighbor away from a brief shouting match that ensued.
Another resident of the block, who declined to be named, said the demonstrators should be protesting at the mayor’s office, the City Council or even Levitan’s office instead.
“That’s where they should be,” he said. “This is a quiet neighborhood.”
He noted that there are six homeless shelters in the immediate neighborhood, including one that houses AIDS patients.
“The homeless have an absolute right to be housed and well taken care of,” he said. “I wonder whether they disagree, because it appears they do disagree.”
The protest then turned into a march to 1297 East 21st Street, home of Solomon Borg, whom Masi identified as Levitan’s attorney. Borg is an attorney with the firm Cox Padmore Skolnik & Shakarchy.
When they arrived, the home’s blinds were shuttered. When one protester rang the doorbell, no one answered the door.
The protest continued for another half-hour before they boarded buses back to Queens.
Masi said she was “greatly disappointed” that no elected officials from Queens stood with them at the protest, even though some “encouraged us to do this.”
In a statement, State Senator Joseph Addabbo said he and Assemblyman Mike Miller spoke to the protesters when they boarded the buses at Forest Park. The lawmakers were hosting a recycling event at the park that morning.
“I assured the riders on the buses that I stand with them, as we make the credible arguments against large, wrongfully placed homeless shelters by the mayor,” Addabbo said. “I stressed that I personally informed the mayor that there can be a balance of helping the homeless individuals and protecting the quality of life and safety of our residents with smaller, better placed sites.
“I ended with the message that the mayor needs to not only hear our concerns,” he added, “but to understand these concerns and respond to them.”