RESIDENTS DISPLACED BY SANDY ARE STARING AT LIFE IN STATEN ISLAND 'JAIL'
CHUCK BENNETT and FRANK ROSARIO
They want them to go from no house to the Big House.
The state is eyeing the recently shuttered Arthur Kill Correctional Facility on Staten Island as a temporary home for people displaced by the ravages of Sandy and this week’s nasty nor’easter, officials said yesterday.
Closed last December, the medium-security prison could feed and sleep as many as 900 people with nowhere else to go.
“Our facilities staff have to go through it to determine what it would take to get it up and running for such a purpose,” said Peter Cutler, a spokesman for the state Department of Corrections.
“Of course, the challenge is the fact that it was closed a year ago and all of the major infrastructure components, such as boilers and wastewater system, were deactivated.”
There are as many as 40,000 New Yorkers who need shelter from the one-two punch of extreme weather events, according to city estimates.
On Staten Island alone, about 5,200 people applied for temporary FEMA housing, but only about two dozen people have been successfully placed, federal sources said.
So it may resemble a scene out of “The Walking Dead,” but officials and displaced people alike say the former prison ought to be considered as a refuge.
“It’s empty. They might as well use it,” said Rob Conigatti, 39, who lost his Dongan Hills home and is now staying with his extended family. “At least they have the right facilities. You can’t keep them in schools. The kids gotta go to school.”
Some people are toughing it out in homes lacking power and heat while others are bunking with friends and family.
“We have not got into the discussion of longer term transitional housings,” said Councilman James Oddo (R-SI). “If there is no other viable option, it shouldn’t be taken off the table because of a quote unquote stigma. Between being cold and having people dry, in a warm, secure place, I know what my choice is.”
Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro, however, is firmly opposed to using the prison, sources said. He didn’t return a call for comment.
His opposition was echoed by several of the 60 people staying at the Mount Manresa Jesuit Retreat House in Shore Acres.
“I lost everything, but I still have my pride. We don’t have to stay in a prison,” said Wally Martinez, 44, who was staying at the retreat with his wife, two children and dog. “My brother was once in that very prison, and my mother used to visit him regularly. She used to tell me how miserable he looked and how filthy and disgusting that prison was.”
Currently, there are about 2,700 evacuees staying in emergency city shelters, according to Mayor Bloomberg.
Some of those people have been arriving with what euphemistically has been called “pre-existing conditions” of mental disorders and substance abuse, according to sources.
Many people, including senior citizens, were too scared to stay in the high schools that were opened last week because they didn’t want to bunk with already homeless people.
Additional reporting by Joe Tacopino