Thu. May 26th, 2022

Republican mayoral candidate Curtis Sliwa offered a new solution to the perennial problem of homelessness in New York City: reopening a massive labor camp upstate that opened under Mayor LaGuardia in the 1930s and closed more than a decade ago.

“There’s so much empty space up there,” Sliwa said. “They can breathe fresh air, get good food, clothes, and that gives them a chance to get back on track.”

The Guardian Angels chief will restart Camp LaGuardia, a 1,000-bed, 258-acre compound built by a former women’s prison in Chester, NY

“It provided rehab for alcohol problems, you could be self-sustaining and you could learn a subject,” Sliwa said, adding that residency would be on a voluntary basis. “Up there, there are very few temptations.”

The complex was the brainchild of its namesake, Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, who got it started in 1934 to combat the crowded homelessness of the city caused by the Depression. The progressive La Guardia called its camp a “human workshop”.

For decades, NYC men went to and from camp by regular buses. Those who hung around were encouraged to find work nearby as day laborers or at a local chicken picking plant.

Camp LaGuardia
Camp LaGuardia is a 1,000-bed, 258-acre compound built by a former women’s prison in Chester, NY
John Lazzzaro

A German immigrant named Paul Brinn raised chickens and goats there for 30 years. Adam Kropiewnicki, a Pole who did not speak English, wandered around the property for seven years before the town managed to rattle a translator to ask what he wanted. The former asbestos trader said he just wanted to return to Poland and be with his family. The nonprofit volunteers in America bought him a single ticket, the Los Angeles Times reported.

In 2007, cost-conscious critics like Mayor Bloomberg were looking to reduce the protection population. The property was sold to Orange County for $ 8.5 million and shut down. Although development plans have been highlighted, Camp LaGuardia has fallen like a ghostly, weed-suffocated ruin.

Not everyone remembers the camp as fondly as Sliwa.

Camp LaGuardia, a NYC homeless shelter located in Chester, New York
A resident of the building is seen in 1997.
New York Post

The homeless “did not like it because they had connections in the city. It was 90 miles up there, ”Meribeth Seaman, a former manager of the facility, told The Post. “Many of them would not be up there. Some appreciated being up in the country, but it was inconvenient. ”

As drug addicts and mental illness became more prevalent in the city’s homeless, Chester residents also began to rebel. In 2002, a resident of Camp LaGuardia cut the local Jane Scelta in the face with a jagged bottle as she rode past on a bicycle.

In 1996, 12 residents were taken prisoner for providing crack cocaine service in the city. That year, more than 98 busts from local police were charged with assault to shoplifting, according to a Post report from the time.

Camp LaGuardia
The condition of Camp LaGuardia has deteriorated greatly since it closed its doors.
JC Rice

Edward A. Diana, the former county director of Orange County who helped buy the camp, said bluntly that the days of exporting the city’s unrest to his community were over.

“The jurisdiction that has a problem should deal with the problem within their own jurisdiction and not place their problems in other jurisdictions,” he said.

Camp LaGuardia
Not all residents of the facility enjoyed their stay there.
JC Rice
Camp LaGuardia
The compound was originally used to combat overcrowded homelessness in the city caused by the Depression,
JC Rice

If not Camp LaGuardia, Sliwa suggested that more economically depressed areas of central New York could be open to a deal that would cause city tax money to flow into the local economy. He suggested reusing the abandoned Mount McGregor Correctional Facility in Moreau, NY, or possibly Plattsburgh.

Sliwa added that there would be plenty of money for a pilot when he shut down Thrive-First Lady Chirlane McCray’s infamous billion-dollar mental health boondoggle.

“So much waste,” Sliwa said. “What we are doing now is not working.”


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