A Coney Island charity is opening a Bensonhurst outpost under the Bay 50th Street train station — but some locals are concerned about the sort of characters it will bring their neighborhood.
The Salt and Sea Mission opens its new location on Stillwell Avenue near the corner of Avenue X on Feb. 26, where it will run a food pantry and services for drug addicts and domestic abuse victims.
The building — donated by an anonymous benefactor — is a dream come true for the 29-year-old charity, which has never before owned the facility it operates from.
“After 29 years of praying that God would give me a building — and I did not miss one day of praying — this man knew I needed a building, and God put it in his heart to give it to us,” said Pastor Debbe Santiago, who founded the mission almost 30 years ago, and has long struggled with making rent and avoiding eviction. “To have this finally come to fruition is truly remarkable to me.”
But residents of the nearby Harway Terrace apartments say Pastor Debbe’s dream will be a nightmare for them, as they fear the new Salt and Sea facility will draw a crowd of troubled Coney Islanders to Bensonhurst.
“The lines over on Neptune Avenue, they’re going to be here now. Nothing we can do about it,” Detective John Nevandro of the 60th Precinct warned members of the Bensonhurst West End Community Council at a Feb. 20 meeting at the Harway Avenue residential complex.
Residents were dismayed at the prospect of a magnet for the indigent and addicted opening just around the corner from their homes.
“It’s going to be a disaster. You see all of them lined up on Neptune Avenue. I’m not putting them down, but there are a lot of undesirables,” said Norman Hyman.
Others feared that having a such a facility nearby would torpedo local home prices.
“I guess it’s time to sell now. Our housing values are going to go way down,” said a woman who declined to give her name, but said she owned a home around the corner.
Pastor Debbe — herself a formerly homeless, recovering drug user — said she was shocked by the objections. She pointed out that she is a member of the 60th Precinct Community Council and Community Board 10, and said that she manages the people who come to her mission or prevent them from being disruptive. She also noted that her new building is on a non-residential block dominated by John Dewey High School.
“Long lines of people, those are hungry people, we keep them quiet and we keep them orderly,” Pastor Debbe said. “We care about the community, we don’t want to go in the community and cause a problem.”
At least one local resident sympathized with Salt and Sea.
“If there are people in need, how can you be against helping them?” said Randi Garay, a Bensonhurst native who added she had collected food for the mission for years.