Is it just indifference and ineptitude, or are the policies of Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster specifically aimed at boosting the city's sagging population numbers with undesirables from other parts of the state?
The venerable Niagara Falls YMCA may be about to become a homeless shelter for as many as 100 vagrant men, most of whom will be imported into the city from elsewhere.
Add those mental patients, addicts and alcoholics to the 170 registered sex offenders here, many of whom arrived here after Dyster announced his famous, "They've got to live somewhere," policy towards pedophiles and other perverts and you've got to wonder just who would want to come here by way of the $45 million train station he's building.
With fewer than 800 members, the Niagara Falls YMCA has been operating at a deficit of around $450,000 a year according to Buddy Campbell, CEO of the YMCA Buffalo Niagara.
The Niagara Falls facility offers 45 rooms, of which 14 to 18 are occupied on any given night by down and outers with nowhere else to go. This aspect of the YMCA mission has become more and more problematic, Campbell said.
"We've had people who have had a lot of problems that we're not equipped to handle and we really began to worry about safety," Campbell said. "We just felt that's not the business we're in anymore."
Overwhelmingly, people become homeless due to mental illness or substance abuse problems, statistics show. And the problem may be about to get worse, much worse.
Former City Councilwoman Candra Thomason told the Niagara Falls Reporter she has learned that a religious organization known as Niagara Gospel Rescue Missions is in negotiations with the YMCA to take over the Portage Road facility for a token $1 payment and turn it into a homeless shelter for 100 men.
"There aren't 100 homeless men running around Niagara Falls, and it's my understanding that they'll be bringing them in from Buffalo and elsewhere," she said. "The YMCA is across the street from the library and a school, and is adjacent to one of the few viable business districts in the city."
Thomason and her husband Richard operate an accounting business in a building they bought in the Main Street business district, and she said they and other business owners are concerned about the effect the Niagara Gospel Rescue Mission's proposal would have on property values in the area.
She said an attorney is looking into the legality of the proposal, and said that the city Planning Board should have to approve the change of use at the YMCA from a single room occupancy facility to a homeless shelter.
"I say it should, but this is Niagara Falls and we all know things don't always go the way they should," Thomason said.
Thomason said she repeatedly tried to speak with Mayor Dyster about the situation after being given the runaround by the city's Code Enforcement Dept., but that Dyster has declined to return her calls.
Currently, Gospel Rescue Missions operates a shelter on Ferry Avenue near 10th Street and, despite complaints from area residents and several police incidents, the city has taken no action.
The city's Zoning Board denied a request from Shaun Smith, who runs the facility, to grant a variance that would allow it to continue operating. Smith sued, and state Supreme Court Justice Frank Caruso issued a temporary restraining order barring the city from closing until he determines the legality of the board's decision.
That decision is expected later this month.
But it was Dyster's laissez faire attitude toward the warehousing of dangerous Level 2 and 3 sex offenders in the city that made big headlines recently, after convicted child predator Jacky Berry, who was previously imprisoned for raping a 7-year-old child, impregnated an 11-year-old Niagara Falls girl he had raped repeatedly over a two year period.
He had been released after serving a seven year sentence for raping the 7 year old in 1990.
"It's not like we go around and knock on doors and tell people in their neighborhood this guy just moved in. It's the public's responsibility if you're interested in that, and if you have kids you should be interested. The information is readily available. It's up to the public to seek it out and then act accordingly," said Robert Zucco, Niagara County Assistant District Attorney.
As is the case with the YMCA being turned into a homeless shelter, the mayor had no comment on his open door policy toward dangerous sexual predators. Instead he expressed outrage over the remarks of a late night comedian.
Yes, you read that correctly. As the city he allegedly governs rapidly becomes a Mecca for degenerates, drug addicts, drunks and the mentally ill, Dyster was quick to talk to reporter about a comedic jab directed at the city by Jimmy Fallon, who compared the New York and Canadian sides. Niagara Falls, New York, he said, reminded him a series of popular children's books entitled "A Series of Unfortunate Incidents."
"The Canada side is like, lights, and it's almost like Vegas," Fallon said. "It's fun."
"The U.S. side is like a Lemony Snicket book cover. Sad. Trees with no leaves on it. What happened?"
"Unfortunately, we are used to that," Dyster replied when asked about the joke. After inviting Fallon to the city for "a ride on the Maid of the Mist," he changed the subject quickly.
(Hornblower offers a much better ride on the Canadian side than Maid does on the New York Side. Hornblower's tours includes bathrooms, seats, dry areas, timed tickets so you don't have to wait in line and evening cruises - none of which New York's Maid of the Mist offers.)
Dyster has his priorities, it's just that they're all screwed up. As he turns the city he professes to love into a warehouse for undesirables no other municipality wants and squanders millions of taxpayer dollars on pie in the sky projects like the train station, he wants to promote rock music concerts and comment on Jimmy Fallon.
Fallon's remarks got a laugh because they are true. They were funny to anyone who doesn't have to live in the Niagara Falls of Mayor Paul Dyster.
Gerald Skrlin Artwork....
The artist has quite literally put the trophy/subject on his wall, not with a hunting firearm but with the pencil of the artist/cartoonist. And within this image of Americana - hunting as a proud American and manly outdoor tradition - the artist has cleverly transformed the politician Paul Dyster into a subject to be hunted by those who covet his elected office much the same way a hunter tracks a deer, bear or perhaps, a possum. As if this weren't clever enough the artist has set a "gag within a gag" in that the subject, Mayor Paul Dyster, is a well known hunter of deer. So much a "Bambi slayer" is the mayor that he stayed in the woods during the recent November storm determined to shoot Bambi rather than meet with Governor Cuomo in Buffalo. In the final analysis this rendering is a minor masterpiece that reads: the hunter is now the hunted and turnabout is fair play.