Reading through the New York Post’s recent article about NYC mayoral candidate Curtis Sliwa’s call to reopen Camp LaGuardia, I’m struck by three things:
First, that the “out of sight, out of mind” approach to dealing with homelessness persists after so many failed experiments over the years;
Second, what local communities actually experienced when LaGuardia was still operational; and
Third, Mr. Sliwa’s seeming ignorance to the fact that NYC no longer has any claim whatsoever to the property.
When first developed as the Women’s Farm Colony at Greycourt, the 258-acre property gave New York City the chance to ship hundreds of incarcerated women north. As female crime declined and the Great Depression caused mass job loss and social unrest in the late ‘30s, Greycourt evolved to house hundreds of ‘wayward’ men from the city.
In its final decades, Greycourt-turned-Camp LaGuardia became NYC’s hiding place of choice for those with mental health and addiction issues, void of proper oversight or rehabilitative programs needed to help them lead healthy and successful lives.
And it showed. Chester residents remember well the incidents of violence and lewdness around town, the burglaries and used syringes strewn across lawns. When the camp finally closed in 2006, all New York City had left to show for its many years and millions of dollars spent on this ill-conceived experiment was a lawsuit from the Orange County Government.
Camp LaGuardia does deserve our focused attention, though. The sprawling, derelict campus is ripe for intelligent, sustainable development that can put this long-dormant property back on the tax rolls - alongside, importantly, a significant portion of the campus being dedicated to protected open space.
Whatever project advances, it must have the support of local community residents, no exceptions.
Here’s the good news about Mr. Sliwa’s proposal to resurrect Camp LaGuardia: it stands no chance of happening. NYC no longer owns Camp LaGuardia so they have literally no say whatsoever in the property’s future. Mr. Sliwa’s “plan” is nothing more than cooked-up nonsense.
A final note for our neighbors in NYC: spend more time focusing on improving outcomes for folks living around or under the poverty line - making childcare, healthcare, education and mental healthcare more affordable and accessible - to ensure we’re being proactive, not just reactive, when it comes to homelessness. Shipping your homeless population to other communities is as detrimental as it is stupid.
State Sen. James Skoufis