Large yellow signs adorn the fence surrounding Saint Catherine of Sienna Church in Franklin Square, notifying the public about a Town of Hempstead Board of Appeals hearing scheduled to take place on Sept. 27.
The hearing is set for 2 p.m. at the Town Meeting Pavilion, at 1 Washington St. in Hempstead. One of four cases to be heard will focus on making a special exception to convert a religious space in the convent to living space for women and children as a shelter. The other cases deal with parking in and around the church property in conjunction with the proposed shelter, building sheds for storage and determining a fence height limitation.
Some residents are upset that the church is planning to allow a nonprofit group called Broken But Not Destroyed to shelter single women and children there. A petition made its way around the community, and a Facebook page called "Stop the Shelter in Franklin Square" materialized during the past week.
Christine Van Leuvan Legene, a Franklin Square resident, said she thought residents should have been notified about the church's plan to build a shelter, though she added that she was not opposed to the idea. "I agree that this could have been made more public sooner, and I agree that there are serious concerns to consider," she said. "But what is crazy is the attitude of, 'I feel bad, but not in my neighborhood.' How are you so sure that these women are bad people? Talk about victim shaming. There but for the grace of God go I. Even if their choices put them in this position, they deserve mercy. You are given mercy by the measure of mercy you give others."
Jay Martinez, who lives at the corner of Pacific Avenue and Lutz Street, adjacent to the church's annex, which is to be converted into the shelter, said that he had not yet formed an opinion about the project. He added that he found out about the proposed shelter on social media, and planned to attend a special meeting at the church scheduled for Tuesday, after the Herald went to press. Church representatives said they could not comment on the plans for the shelter until then.
A petition being passed around by a man who identified himself only as Rob listed bullet points detailing why the shelter should not be built. "This is going to be a shelter that will bring problems to our neighborhood," the petition read. "This will reduce property values to homes. The women could have domestic problems attracting others to the neighborhood to cause further domestic incidents. The women could have drug abuse problems, or criminals who partake in easy thefts from cars or houses. The women's children would go to Franklin Square schools. The shelter could serve as a gateway to bring in other possible shelters. The shelters could attract crime. Saint Catherine of Sienna has showed that they do not care about the neighborhood and the safety of their parishioners, just looking for income."
Broken But Not Destroyed, a state-funded nonprofit founded in 2013, provides shelter services to homeless women, men and children in Nassau County. Its founder, Duane Thompson, a contractor, and its director, Thompson's wife, Kayde, who works full time for the organization, are both from Franklin Square. Together they help people find low-income housing, jobs, mental health care and even credit repair services. Clients meet with a social worker, or Kayde Thompson, for monthly progress reviews.
The proposed Franklin Square shelter would be the organization's third, and would house about 10 women and their children, along with six single women, for 90 days to six months at a time. The shelter would not be for men, nor for those with substance-abuse issues. "We didn't want a stigma attached," Kayde Thompson said. "This is why we opened this program and site to just women and children. It is not taking in men on drugs." The children would not attend Franklin Square schools, but would be bused to other school districts such as Jericho. Three beds would be left open for those with emergency needs.
"This is for the people of Nassau County who have lost their jobs and are struggling financially because of a rise in the cost of living and are earning low wages," Thompson said. "They don't know what to do."
Church officials learned of the Thompsons' program from Mary Jostens, of the St. Vincent DePaul Church in Elmont. Thompson used to pick up food for her program clients at the Elmont-based church.
"Someone told Mary about what we do at Broken," she said. "Mary came to visit and saw how many people we had doing charity work for us. Then she told the people at Saint Catherine's about us. That's how we came together."