Nassau County legislators on Wednesday questioned a plan to convert a Jericho hotel into a homeless shelter after opposition from some residents who said they were not consulted in the process.
Opponents also warned that children from the families could burden the school district.
But in testimony before a legislative committee, Nassau's Department of Social Services Commissioner Nancy Nunziata said selection of the site and certification of the facility is controlled by the state.
Nunziata told the county legislature's Health and Social Services committee that the approximately 80 families to be housed at the new shelter would send fewer than 20 children to the Jericho School District.
Jericho Family Support Center, which would open in a converted Hampton Inn on Jericho Turnpike in the hamlet's business district, would provide temporary housing units for families, along with meals, job training and day care for children.
“When you look at all of that the project just makes sense,” said Nunziata, whom County Executive Laura Curran appointed commissioner in September 2019. Curran, a Democrat, supports the Jericho plan.
“We did not do anything different with this project than we did with other shelters,” Nunziata said.
Legis. Rose Walker (R-Hicksville), Health Committee chairwoman, said she was surprised by how little information about the shelter was communicated to legislators.
Walker, who said she found about the shelter plan from a news conference, asked for more information about how the state certification process would work.
Walker said she also needed information about the county's role in identifying the shelter site and the hiring of a vendor to operate the shelter.
Legis. Delia DeRiggi-Whitton (D-Glen Cove) asked about background checks that wold be performed on shelter residents.
"I know that when there is change in a community there is anxiety. I get that," DeRiggi-Whitton said.
The shelter would be operated by Community Housing Innovations Inc., a nonprofit with offices in White Plains and Patchogue.
The shelter has capacity for about 80 families who are living at three Jericho hotels, including the Hampton Inn, Nunziata said.
Local homeowners opposed to the Jericho Family Center cited a lack of transparency in the selection of Community Housing Innovations.
Opponents also have voiced concerns about safety, possible spread of the coronavirus and an increased burden on the Jericho schools.
They have raised more than $80,000 through a GoFundMe.com page to cover legal expenses.
John Sarraf, of Old Westbury, questioned the process used to identify the Jericho shelter site.
"This is not about not wanting to help homeless people; everybody wants to help homeless people," Sarraf said.
"The project must comply with the local zoning law ... the whole situation just doesn't smell right," he said.
Advocates for the shelter say the wealthy, 13,000-person hamlet of Jericho should share the job of housing the less fortunate instead of shifting the responsibility onto other municipalities.
Nassau County operates 44 shelters that house about 1,300 homeless families and individuals, officials said. The majority of the shelters are located in Uniondale, Freeport and Hempstead.
The county is required by law to place those who qualify for the shelter benefit in temporary housing.
CHI executive director Alexander Roberts said, "in a perfect world, municipalities themselves should approach the county with proposed locations that would be acceptable for homeless and affordable housing."
However, " ... communities will always find a reason why it shouldn’t be located wherever it is proposed, denying vital services to families in crisis, which cannot happen," Roberts said.