Curtis Sliwa says to bus NYC’s homeless to work camp upstate

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Curtis Sliwa says to bus NYC's homeless to work camp upstate

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

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

The Guardian Angels boss wants to restart Camp LaGuardia, a 1,000-bed, 258-acre compound built out of a former women’s prison in Chester, N.Y.

“It provided rehab for alcohol issues, you could be self-sustaining and you can learn a trade,” 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 going in 1934 to combat overflowing homelessness in the city caused by the depression. The progressive La Guardia called his camp a “human repair shop.”

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

Camp LaGuardia
Camp LaGuardia is 1,000-bed, 258-acre compound built out of a former women’s prison in Chester, N.Y.
John Lazzzaro

A German immigrant named Paul Brinn raised chickens and goats there for 30 years. Adam Kropiewnicki, a Pole who spoke no English, wandered the property for seven years before the city managed to rustle up a translator to ask what he wanted. The former asbestos handler said he just wished to return to Poland and be with his family. The nonprofit Volunteers of America purchased him a one-way ticket, the Los Angeles Times reported.

By 2007, cost-conscious critics like Mayor Bloomberg were looking to decrease the shelter population. The property was sold to Orange County for $8.5 million and shut down. Though plans for development have been floated, Camp LaGuardia has languished as ghostly, weed-choked 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 “didn’t like it because they had connections in the city. It was 90 miles up there,” Meribeth Seaman, a former manager at the facility, told The Post. “A lot of them didn’t want to 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 homeless population, the residents of Chester also began to revolt. In 2002 a Camp LaGuardia resident slashed local Jane Scelta in the face with a jagged bottle as she rode past on a bicycle.

In 1996, 12 residents were busted for running a crack cocaine delivery service in the town. That year saw more than 98 busts from local police on charges of assault to shoplifting, according to a Post report from the time.

Camp LaGuardia
The condition of Camp LaGuardia has vastly deteriorated since it shut its doors.
J.C. Rice

Edward A. Diana, the former county executive of Orange County, who helped purchase the camp, said flatly that the days of exporting the city’s urban blight to his community were over.

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

Camp LaGuardia
Not all residents at the facility enjoyed their stay there.
J.C. Rice
Camp LaGuardia
The compound was initially used to combat overflowing homelessness in the city caused by the depression,
J.C. Rice

If not Camp LaGuardia, Sliwa suggested more economically depressed areas of central New York might be open to a deal which would see city tax dollars flow into the local economy. He suggested repurposing the abandoned Mount McGregor Correctional Facility in Moreau, N.Y., or possibly Plattsburgh.

Sliwa added that there would be plenty of money for a pilot once 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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