Tag Archives: Department of Homeless Services

City Comptroller says no to Pan Am homeless shelter proposal once again


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/File photo

Updated 3:38 p.m.

City Comptroller Scott Stringer stood his ground on Thursday and sent the resubmitted proposal to convert the former Pan American Hotel into a permanent homeless shelter back to the Department of Homeless Services (DHS).

Stringer’s response comes after DHS resubmitted their application on June 12. The initial proposal was originally rejected by Stringer’s office in May due to health and safety concerns such as fire code violations, rodent infestation and lack of kitchen facilities in the units.

The city comptroller had until the following week to accept or reject the proposal, and he decided to continue to urge the agency to make the changes he first asked to be made before they could be considered for approval.

“The Department of Homeless Services has not yet provided sufficient documentation to show that the Pan American Hotel facility is safe, and that all outstanding violations and complaints have been corrected. As a result I have sent the contract back to allow the agency additional time to address the outstanding issues we identified,” Stringer said.

Stringer’s decision comes two days after local elected officials stood with residents and community activists calling on the rejection of the resubmitted proposal.

The emergency homeless shelter at the former hotel on Queens Boulevard was supposed to close last December, yet even after facing large opposition from community members, an application was submitted to convert it into a permanent shelter under a five-year, $42 million contract with DHS.

State Senators Tony Avella and Jeff Klein, who held the rally Tuesday, praised Stringer for his decision.

“Today, the voices of homeless families and the community as a whole have been heard. While I thank the comptroller for his leadership on this issue, our work is not yet done. We must continue to work to fix this broken system,” Avella said. “I urge the Assembly to pass companion legislation to Senator Klein’s bill to protect our neighborhoods going forward. We must ensure that our communities have a stage on which to raise their voices against future Pan Am sites.”

Klein’s bill, which would require the city’s Planning Commission to hold a public community forum before the approval, modification or rejection of a homeless shelter site, recently passed in the state Senate.

State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, who has voiced her opposition to the shelter before, joined numerous other elected officials who applauded Stringer’s decision. Stavisky suggested that the DHS use this time to “search for other sites around the city as well as more permanent housing for families.”

“I want to thank New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer for carefully considering the troubling conditions at the Pan American Hotel and reaching the same conclusion that I have — that the Pan Am facility is not safely serving the families being housed at that shelter,” Stavisky said. “Rejecting this contract is in the best interest of everyone. The Pan Am is far too cramped and lacks basic amenities, such as kitchens, which all families, especially those with babies and young children, desperately need and that are required by the city’s administrative code.”

Local grassroots organization Elmhurst United, which has been against the proposed homeless shelter since day one, also thanked Stringer for his decision and ask DHS to stop resubmitting their proposal.

“Samaritan Village and DHS should cease resubmitting this contract as the Pan Am shelter is too costly to upgrade in order to comply with state and local laws, in particular, providing a cooking facility in each living unit and a childcare facility at this site,” said Jennifer Chu, president of Elmhurst United.

RECOMMENDED STORIES

Sex offenders to be removed from Skyway Men’s Shelter in South Ozone Park


| amatua@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Angela Matua

Councilman Ruben Wills announced Tuesday that the 52 registered sex offenders currently housed at Skyway Men’s Shelter in South Ozone Park will be removed by the city.

The shelter, located at 132-30 South Conduit Ave., two blocks away from P.S./M.S. 124, has been a constant source of concern for community members, especially families and staff at the school. They have been working with Wills since 2011, when the family shelter was converted to a men’s shelter, to make sure that Level 2 and 3 sex offenders would be removed.

“We want to announce today that we have entered into another round of lobbying the state and the city [Department of Homeless Services],” Wills said. “Today we want to announce that as of yesterday the Department of Homeless Services has announced that this is not a compliant shelter and they will be removing the sexual offenders in an expedited basis out of this shelter.”

According to PTA President Eileen Lamanna, children living in Skyway attended P.S./M.S. 124. But after one weekend in February 2011, the families were moved to shelters throughout the city and men were shuttled in. The Department of Homeless Services (DHS) did not inform any public officials or community members that the shelter would be converted into a men’s shelter, according to Lamanna.

Lamanna said parents attended PTA meetings to complain about the shelter and express concern about groups of men loitering by the park connected to the school.

“It’s a desolate area,” Lamanna said. “Why are you putting them here? It’s like you’re tempting them.”

Wills previously stated the shelter was not the mandated 1,000 feet away from the school, though DHS argued that it was. The DHS reportedly informed Wills that the distance from the school’s door to the shelter’s door is 1,056 feet.

Wills’ office conducted their own survey last week and found that the distance between the shelter and the real property boundary line at 130th Street and South Conduit Avenue was less than 930 feet.

According to state penal law, school grounds are defined as “…any area accessible to the public located within one thousand feet of the real property boundary line comprising any such school,” including sidewalks and streets. The DHS measured the distance from the shelter’s door to the school’s door and excluded the sidewalk and the school’s park, it was noted.

Wills is requesting that Comptroller Scott Stringer audit the system that DHS is using to calculate the distance of a shelter from a school to determine if it is compliant with state residency restrictions.

“The city is legally and morally obligated to provide shelter to anyone who requests it,” a DHS spokesperson said. “The city ensures those listed on the sex offender registry are sheltered at sites that meet New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision guidelines. Originally, this site met the requirement to be 1,000 feet from a school, but yesterday DHS was notified the facility no longer meets this geographic requirement. We are working to transfer those residents to sites that are compliant.”

Though Lamanna said she is thankful and relieved that the city has taken action, she is still weary, especially after the city planned to open a juvenile detention center in the area.

“Why doesn’t anybody care about this community?” Lamanna said. “It’s just like a constant battle.”

RECOMMENDED STORIES

Pols call for rejection of resubmitted proposal for Pan Am homeless shelter


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Angy Altamirano

The fight continues for Elmhurst community members who continue to stand together hoping the city will again reject the proposal to convert the former Pan American Hotel into a permanent homeless shelter, which was resubmitted last month.

Local elected officials gathered with residents and community activists on Tuesday morning outside the facility to call for the rejection of Samaritan Village’s proposal that would turn the emergency shelter into a permanent one.

“We cannot address the growing homeless population at the expense of homeless families and children, or the community as a whole,” said state Senator Tony Avella, who previously voiced his opposition of the homeless shelter and its conditions. “We must look to fix this broken system.”

The emergency homeless shelter at the former hotel was supposed to close last December, yet even after facing large opposition from community members, an application was submitted to convert it into a permanent shelter under a five-year, $42 million contract with the Department of Homeless Services.

In May, the proposal was rejected by the office of Comptroller Scott Stringer due to health and safety concerns, such as fire code violations and lack of kitchen facilities in the units, but it was resubmitted on June 12 and now Stringer must decide to accept or reject it by next week.

“Mr. Stringer, as an elected official, as a civil servant and as the comptroller of the city of New York, we demand that you permanently reject the Pan Am contract,” said Anna Orjuela, a member of Elmhurst United and an Elmhurst resident for more than 30 years. “It is time for you to restore the people’s faith in our system of government and remind everyone that no one is above the law, regardless of their wealth, title or position of power.”

During Tuesday’s rally, elected officials also urged the state Assembly to pass companion legislation to state Senator Jeff Klein’s bill, which would require the city’s Planning Commission to hold a public community forum before the approval, modification or rejection of a homeless shelter site. The bill has already passed in the state Senate.

This process would allow community members to learn about the shelter and also provide their input on the idea, according to Klein.

“This situation is playing out across the city. An emergency homeless shelter moves into a neighborhood without community input and then the city seeks to make it permanent. This is simply unacceptable,” Klein said. “The residents of this community deserve to be heard, and the residents in this family shelter who live with rat infestations, improper garbage disposal and other serious health violations deserve better.”

Last week, grassroots organization Elmhurst United, which has been voicing its opposition to the shelter since day one, sent out a newsletter looking to inform local residents as to why the shelter is not suitable for the community and also encourage people to reach out to their elected officials.

In the newsletter, the group highlights issues such as School District 24 being the most overcrowded in the city, lack of a child care facility at the site, numerous FDNY violations, a façade violation, and much more.

“Everyone should care about what happens in their neighborhood,” the newsletter reads. “Speak up now before it is too late. Once the contract is signed, it becomes a much harder fight.”

RECOMMENDED STORIES

City comptroller sends back Pan American shelter contract


| rpozarycki@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Angy Altamirano

Plans to make the former Pan American Hotel in Elmhurst a permanent homeless shelter hit a roadblock Monday when City Comptroller Scott Stringer refused to sign a city contract for its operation.

The Department of Homeless Services (DHS) and the nonprofit group Samaritan Village previously agreed upon a five-year, $42.4 million contract formally establishing 79-00 Queens Blvd. as a permanent transitional housing shelter.

Stringer, however, sent the contract back to the mayor’s office as a result of concerns regarding conditions at the Pan American. The NY Daily News reported earlier this month that the shelter was suffering from vermin infestation. Last week, a fire also broke out in one of the units. There were no injuries reported, but the family in the affected unit was forced to relocate to another shelter.

The comptroller similarly voided a DHS contract for another shelter in Manhattan.

The comptroller vowed not to approve the contract until his office “receives assurances that anyone staying in these facilities will be safe” and “all outstanding violations and complaints have been corrected.”

“In March, the NYC Department of Investigation released a report that highlighted unacceptable living conditions in our city’s shelters and raised significant issues about how the Department of Homeless Services identifies and cures health and safety violations,” Stringer said in a statement. “We simply can and must do better on behalf of the 60,000 people, including nearly 25,000 children, who are under our care.”

The announcement came hours after Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in Corona the creation of an inter-agency shelter repair squad designed to find and correct any violations in city homeless shelters.

Stringer applauded the mayor for the announcement and added he is looking forward “to working closely with this group to meaningfully change the way the city procures and operates our homeless shelters.”

RECOMMENDED STORIES

City to deploy ‘shelter repair squad’ to fix homeless shelter issues


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Angy Altamirano

Five city agencies are coming together to investigate and solve the issues faced at over 500 homeless shelters throughout the city.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Monday that the city will deploying hundreds of “special SWAT teams” — made up of employees from the FDNY, Department of Buildings, Department of Homeless Services, Department of Health and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development — to accelerate the process of repairs at homeless shelters all over New York City.

“These SWAT teams are necessary because we aren’t dealing with a problem that just started in the last year or two, we’re dealing with a problem that is decades old and has gotten worse for several reasons,” de Blasio said. “This city has seen a homelessness crisis that in the last decade went from a very troubling level to an absolutely unacceptable level.”

According to the mayor, 56,000 people are currently living in shelters, and although that number is down from 59,000 people a few months ago, there is still much more to be done.

The implementation of the inter-agency shelter repair squad comes after de Blasio received a report from the Department of Investigation two months ago that put forth the unhealthy conditions at the city shelters. The DOI found 25 shelters that required immediate attention, and those have since had almost all violations addressed.

One of those shelters included the Corona Family Residence, where de Blasio made the announcement Monday afternoon. This facility had violations such as smoke detector problems and rodent infestations.

The squads will go out to individual shelters, identify the problems and solutions to them, then reach out to various departments and agencies that could find the resources to correct the conditions. Typical violations — such as broken or missing smoke detectors — will be expected to be fixed within a seven-day period after being identified. Some of the more complicated capital repairs will begin in about 30 days with a plan of completion within the calendar year.

Along with the squad, there will also be an accountability system put into place where members of the public will be able to track the city’s progress through online scorecards.

“Every effort is being made to reduce the number of health and safety violations within DHS shelters, and the creation of the shelter repair squad will provide immeasurable support to us in these efforts,” DHS Commissioner Gilbert Taylor said. “This engagement is truly reflective of our city’s collective responsibility, serving our most vulnerable New Yorkers. These measures will indeed help DHS to overcome the many years of neglect that our city shelter system has been subjected to.”

Last week, de Blasio also announced that in the city’s 2016 $78.3 billion budget $100 million will go toward homeless prevention and assistance, including rental support, anti-eviction and legal services, and more. The budget will also include $4.7 million to expand the number of shelter beds for runaway and homeless youth by another 100, while enhancing mental health services.

For Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who attended the Monday announcement, the issues residents have to live with at these homeless shelters hit close to his heart because his family once lived in a shelter. Van Bramer said that many of the issues the families are facing are the same as those his family faced years ago.

“Every family that comes to [a] shelter is in a state of crisis in one way or another, but the fact that they found shelter means that they are on the path to recovery, like my family. So going to [a] shelter is the first step, in many cases, to making it out of [the] shelter,” Van Bramer said. “But when you get to that shelter, it should be a place where any New Yorker could live because it’s about dignity and it’s about knowing that you matter, your lives matter, your children matter.”

RECOMMENDED STORIES

Fire breaks out inside Pan American homeless shelter


| rpozarycki@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Angy Altamirano

Updated 3:35 p.m.

No injuries were reported after a one-alarm fire ignited early Wednesday morning inside the homeless shelter at the former Pan American Hotel in Elmhurst, fire department sources said.

The blaze started at about 1:54 a.m. inside a third-floor unit of the seven-story structure at 79-00 Queens Blvd. Firefighters responded to the scene and quickly extinguished the flames.

According to the Department of Homeless Services (DHS), the entire facility was evacuated after the fire broke out, and families were allowed to return once firefighters brought the situation under control. The family residing in the burned unit was transferred to another facility until repairs are made.

Coincidentally, the fire happened on the deadline date that Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Office of Temporary and Permanent Assistance set last week for the DHS to remediate violations at the Pan American and other homeless shelters in operation across the city.

As reported last week, community residents reported seeing rats looking for food in a trash pile outside the shelter. A NY Daily News investigation also revealed that many of the units — some of which house as many as five people at a time — are infested with cockroaches.

The DHS did not comment on the governor’s deadline in an email to The Courier.

RECOMMENDED STORIES

Buildings Department approves revised Glendale shelter construction plans


| rpozarycki@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre

While the battle over the proposed Glendale homeless shelter is far from over, the Department of Buildings (DOB) gave its blessing to the shelter’s revised blueprints.

The DOB approved on April 2 amended building plans to convert a long-defunct factory at 78-16 Cooper Ave. into a hotel with 70 dwelling units. In March, the agency approved plans for 103 units but quickly reversed course and withheld them for further review.

Issues stemmed from the previous classification of the site as “lodging,” but the revised plans approved on April 2 describe the building as a class B hotel. This change would allow operation of a hotel as-of-right, without requiring changing the location’s manufacturing zoning, which would involve a public review process.

The Department of Homeless Services (DHS) previously reached a five-year, $27 million agreement with the nonprofit Samaritan Village to operate a homeless shelter for up to 125 families at the factory site. Its owner, Michael Wilner, is reportedly leasing the site to Samaritan Village and is responsible for the factory’s renovation.

While construction may take place at the shelter site, the contract itself must be approved by City Comptroller Scott Stringer before it can be used as a homeless shelter. A spokeperson for Stringer told The Courier his office has yet to receive the contract, and therefore has yet to make the decision.

Meanwhile, the fight goes on for community activists opposed to the shelter’s opening. Community Board 5 District Manager Gary Giordano said in a phone interview the advisory body would file a formal challenge of the plans with the Buildings Department. The public has until about May 11 in order to officially file a challenge with the agency.

“We will do some consultations with attorneys and try to make the best of it,” Giordano said.

The Glendale Middle Village Coalition, a group of civic and business organizations, continues to raise funds for its legal challenges to the plan.

It previously filed an Article 78 proceeding against the DHS’ environmental assessment which determined that 78-16 Cooper Ave. — used for industrial manufacturing for decades and located adjacent to a chemical storage facility — is safe for reuse as a shelter.

The coalition hopes a judge’s ruling will force the DHS to perform an environmental impact study on the site, which could cost millions and take several years to complete.

RECOMMENDED STORIES

City Comptroller Scott Stringer discusses community concerns at legislative breakfast


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Angy Altamirano

The conversion of an East Elmhurst motel into a homeless shelter was one of many topics addressed by the city’s comptroller during a breakfast last week with western Queens community leaders and elected officials.

Comptroller Scott Stringer was a guest at the United Community Civic Association’s 2015 Legislative/Executive Breakfast on Feb. 6 where members voiced their concerns about air, noise and traffic pollution, unaffordable costs of residential rents, and hospital closings.

“Many of you in this room are at this meeting not just because of yourselves. You believe in New York City, and you love it like I do,” Stringer said at the breakfast. “But we’re also doing this for our children, making sure that the economy is going to fit what they have to do.”

Stringer added that the key idea is to think about the economy in 10 to 15 years and start to think about it as a high-technology economy. He also said that the economy should no longer be Manhattan-centric; instead, all the boroughs should be transformed into economic hubs.

“The government cannot just be in sound bites telling people what they want to hear,” Stringer said. “We’ve got to create a five-borough economic plan and make sure that people can access the middle class. That is how this city was built.”

Residents and community leaders at the breakfast discussed in detail the issue of dealing with the city’s Department of Homeless Services’ decision to convert the Westway Motor Inn, located at 72-05 Astoria Blvd., into a permanent homeless shelter.

Recently, the community voiced its outrage against the city’s decision to house registered sex offender James Bryant at the shelter, which is home to over 100 families with children. Bryant was removed from the shelter on Feb. 5.

Since then, the DHS has proposed changes to its policy to prevent level 2 or 3 sex offenders from being placed in shelters with families and instead referring them to shelters for single adults.

In response, Stringer said that city agencies should have a dialogue with the communities and sit down with leaders to work out issues and “respect people.”

Stringer also said he will personally go to the Westway Motor Inn, tour the facility, look at the issues brought up by community members and take suggestions on what can be done differently.

“We have to make sure the voices of our neighborhoods are heard,” Stringer added. “We will monitor, we will watch and we will speak out.”

RECOMMENDED STORIES

DHS removes sex offender living at Westway motel homeless shelter


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Angy Altamirano

The cries of an East Elmhurst community have been heard, as a convicted sex offender has been removed from the homeless shelter at the Westway Motor Inn.

James Bryant, 49, who in 2004 was convicted of sexually assaulting a 7-year-old girl in 2003 and faced 10 years in prison, was living at the hotel located at 72-05 Astoria Blvd.

After hearing the news that the 49-year-old was living in the same facility that is home to over 100 homeless families, local elected officials and community leaders voiced their outrage.

“We are totally outraged, not only as a community, but we are saddened for those people who have children and now have among their group a pedophile who certainly should not have been selected to go into any shelter that has any children,” Rose Marie Poveromo, president of the United Community Civic Association, previously told The Courier.

By Thursday, the city’s Department of Homeless Services announced that Bryant had been removed from the shelter.

“After we applied pressure, convicted sex offender removed from Westway Hotel,” said state Senator Michael Gianaris via Twitter. “We will continue to work on other issues surrounding Westway.”

Last July, the city’s Department of Homeless Services approved the conversion of the Westway Motor Inn into a shelter that would be managed by social services provider Women in Need.

Residents of the surrounding neighborhood, local elected officials and community leaders were outraged they were not told or asked in advance about the motel becoming a permanent shelter.

“I have learned that the convicted sex offender has been removed from the premises at the Westway housing facility,” state Senator Jose Peralta said. “While I am pleased to hear this news, I remain extremely concerned by the lack of adequate policies and procedures in place at the Department of Homeless Services that would have prevented this dangerous circumstance from occurring.”

According to Councilman Costa Constantinides, the DHS has assured him they will be more sensitive when relocating individuals in the future and will be “considerate to the needs of the residential neighborhoods.”

“We will keep working to ensure that our neighborhood’s concerns are addressed in this process,” Constantinides added.

RECOMMENDED STORIES

Local pols criticize DHS decision to place sex offender at Westway motel homeless shelter


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/ Photo by Angy Altamirano

Updated Thursday, Feb. 5 10:55 a.m.  

The East Elmhurst community is expressing its outrage after finding out that a registered sex offender has been moved to the homeless shelter at the Westway Motor Inn, which houses families that include young children.

James Bryant, 49, is a sexually violent offender who in 2004 was convicted of sexually assaulting a 7-year-old girl the year prior and faced up to ten years in state prison, according to records from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services.

According to the same records, Bryant has since been moved to the hotel located at 72-05 Astoria Blvd., which has served as a shelter for over 100 homeless families since last year.

“I am alarmed at the recent news that a convicted child molester has been placed at the Westway facility after we were assured that location was meant to house families with children,” state Senator Michael Gianaris said. “The continuing lack of information and transparency surrounding the Westway is extremely troubling and validates the community’s concerns about this location from the start.”

Photo courtesy of New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services

James Bryant (Photo courtesy of New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services)

Last July, the city’s Department of Homeless Services approved the conversion of the Westway Motor Inn into a shelter that would be managed by social services provider Women in Need.

“We are totally outraged, not only as a community but we are saddened for those people who have children and now have among their group a pedophile who certainly should not have been selected to go into any shelter that have any children,” said Rose Marie Poveromo, president of the United Community Civic Association.

Initially, community members were outraged they weren’t told or asked about the motel becoming a permanent shelter.

“Since the shelter opened last year, the community and local elected officials have had no voice in the process. We have lacked adequate access to the shelter facilities and its management, so it came to me as a complete surprise that a violent sex offender has been permitted to live in this facility,” Councilman Costa Constantinides said. “The families in need who are living at the Westway deserve more than just a roof over their head – they deserve a safe place to live.”

In regards to the community concerns the DHS said in a statement: “DHS takes safety concerns very seriously and, within its legal obligation to provide shelter to anyone in need, is currently reviewing policies with regard to sex offenders in the families with children system.”

RECOMMENDED STORIES

Sen. Avella calls conditions at proposed Pan Am permanent shelter ‘horrendous’


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Angy Altamirano

State Sen. Tony Avella has joined the opposition to the planned conversion of an emergency homeless shelter at the former Pan American Hotel into a permanent facility due to what he called “horrendous” conditions at the site.

Avella, who is chairman of the Senate’s Social Services Committee, joined residents and local leaders to speak out against the proposal to convert the shelter at 7900 Queens Blvd. in Elmhurst to a permanent facility under a $42 million contract with the city.

“It is an outrage to take an abandoned hotel, warehouse homeless families inside it, ignore shocking City Code and HPD violations, waste an exorbitant amount of taxpayer dollars in the process, and then award a $42 million contract to a questionable-at-best organization, making the entire situation permanent,” Avella said.

According to the senator, the shelter houses over 700 residents, made up of families of which many have small children. Each unit at the shelter holds four to five people.

Because the shelter uses former hotel rooms, they are not equipped with cooking facilities. The senator and organizations such as Elmhurst United claim this goes against a NYC Administrative Code requiring that each unit at a family shelter have a kitchen, and in order to do this, there would need to be major renovations at the site.

Photo courtesy of Sen. Tony Avella's office

Photo courtesy of Sen. Tony Avella’s office

The shelter has also had a large number of violations such as failure to provide hot water or heat for days, reports of bed bugs, peeling of lead paint in one unit, and garbage left sitting in front of the entrance to the children’s play area, according to the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

“As chair of the State Senate’s Social Services Committee, I understand the vital importance of addressing our growing homeless population and I am committed to working to resolve these issues,” Avella said. “However, this cannot be at the expense of homeless families and children or the community as a whole. We must look to fix this broken system, not warehouse those people that need our help most.”

Due to all these conditions, Avella said he calls on the city to reject the contract that would covert the former hotel into a permanent homeless shelter because he believes it is “not fit for long-term housing for the homeless.”

According to the city’s Department of Homeless Services, the hotel was remodeled before the agency began using it as a shelter. The building also always has hot water, yet sometimes there is a lack of pressure, and hot water has been at full capacity since Dec. 7. Additionally, there have been no problems with the heat. Bedbugs were identified in five units and are currently being treated by an extermination company, and the facility has been lead-free since July.

“We have worked swiftly with our provider to respond to all concerns in the building,” said a DHS spokesperson. “Providing adequate shelter for families in need is a priority for this administration, and it’s heartening to see the community concern about the welfare of these families – an encouraging development after unfortunate and regrettable opposition to this shelter.”

The city is wrestling with a record number of homeless people. More than 59,000 people are currently in the shelter system.

RECOMMENDED STORIES

Pan Am homeless shelter violates laws, says opponent


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/ Photo by Angy Altamirano

One Elmhurst grassroots organization is claiming the conditions at the proposed permanent homeless shelter at the former Pan American Hotel are breaking the law.

Elmhurst United, a grassroots organization that has been voicing its opposition to the homeless shelter at 7900 Queens Blvd. since day one, released a statement arguing that conditions at the homeless shelter violate city laws. The statement was released after a Queens Courier report that the city is seeking approval for a $42 million contract to operate the site as a permanent shelter.

The Department of Homeless Services did not immediately respond to request for comment.

The group claims the shelter violates the NYC Administrative Code, which states, “No homeless family shelter shall be established which does not provide a bathroom, a refrigerator and cooking facilities and an adequate sleeping area within each unit within the shelter and which otherwise complies with state and local laws.”

According to the organization, the site does not have kitchens in every unit, which was why initially DHS did not consider the site to be a “permanent family shelter.”

Other conditions include “inadequate sleeping quarters” with four to five people living in a single room with bunk beds pushed up against windows, according to Elmhurst United.

“These units simply cannot be converted to be used for permanent housing with minimal structural change,” said Jennifer Chu, spokeswoman for Elmhurst United. “The Pan Am would require major renovation in order for it to lawfully meet NYC standards for Tier II homeless shelters. The Samaritan Village draft contract shows that there is no money in the line item budget to do renovations for the next 4.5 years.”

DHS is proposing a five-year, $42 million contract with Samaritan Village Inc. for the shelter at the Pan Am Hotel, The Courier previously reported.

RECOMMENDED  STORIES

City seeks $42M contract for Pan Am homeless shelter


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Salvatore Licata

Making the homeless shelter at the Pan Am Hotel permanent will inch forward next week when the city seeks approval for a $42 million contract to operate it.

The Department of Homeless Services is proposing a five-year, $42 million contract with Samaritan Village Inc. for the proposed homeless shelter at the former Pan Am Hotel in Elmhurst, according to city records.

Samaritan Village, which runs homeless facilities across the city, is also seeking to run the proposed shelter on Cooper Avenue in Glendale.

The public is invited to give feedback at a hearing on Nov. 13 at 125 Worth St. in Manhattan at 10 a.m.

The contract’s operating term will start from Dec. 6, 2014, to June 30, 2019, with an option for renewal from July 1, 2019, to June 20, 2023, for the shelter, which will be located at 79-00 Queens Blvd.

The city opened the shelter for emergency shelter at the Pan Am Hotel on June 5. Lawfully, the city can operate an emergency shelter for six months before it has to make it permanent.

RECOMMENDED STORIES

Backpacks donated to children of Pan American Hotel homeless shelter


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Councilman Daniel Dromm’s office

School-aged children living at the Boulevard Family Center in the former Pan American Hotel are all set for their first day of school.

Councilman Daniel Dromm, Queens Center and the Department of Homeless Services came together on Aug. 19 to distribute 200 backpacks, notebooks and water bottles to the children living at the homeless shelter located at 7900 Queens Blvd.

“The homeless children that moved into the former Pan Am Hotel in June are some of our newest neighbors and they need our support,” said Dromm, who believes it is appropriate to donate these backpacks to his “newest constituents.” “As a former teacher of 25 years, I know firsthand how important it is for students to come to school prepared to learn. These backpacks will help the children start the school year right.”

DHS and nonprofit Samaritan Village turned the Pan American Hotel into a homeless shelter for families in June. Since then the surrounding community has protested and rallied against the move, which happened without residents and elected officials being given prior notice.

Community members have voiced their concerns over community safety, increased in property taxes and crime, and overcrowding of nearby schools.

RECOMMENDED STORIES

Community calls homeless shelter at East Elmhurst motel an ‘abuse of power’


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/ Photo by Angy Altamirano

East Elmhurst residents blasted city officials Wednesday for placing a homeless shelter on Astoria Boulevard without community consultation, calling the move a “covert operation reeking of disrespect.”

More than 200 neighborhood residents packed an Astoria museum’s theater to speak against the decision by the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) to turn the Westway Motor Inn into a permanent homeless shelter to house more than 100 homeless families.

Community members say they are outraged they weren’t told or asked about the motel becoming a permanent shelter.

“It was a deliberate, furtive and covert operation reeking of disrespect of our local elected officials, community leaders and the community at large,” said Rose Marie Poveromo, president of the United Community Civic Association, which organized the meeting. ”We were advised after the fact and consider the action by DHS an abuse of power.”

Officials say that years ago the DHS came to the community requesting to turn the 121-room motel into a homeless shelter, but were met with opposition. At the time DHS stated it had no plans to convert the motel into a full-time facility and worked with the community on making the site only a temporary overnight shelter.

“When they came to us, we explained to them why this is the wrong place. Why there is nothing for these people to do during the day, this is a hotel on a dangerous service road,” said Peter Vallone Jr., a former councilman for the area who also worked with the DHS to come to the temporary shelter agreement. “To change that agreement you were supposed to come to the community and inform us. That never happened and that is an outrage.”

The shelter is being managed by social services provider Women In Need and currently houses a total of 67 families with 129 children, ranging from 1 to 17 years old, according to DHS representatives.

Residents who lined up to speak during the meeting, which went on for more than two hours, raised concerns over community safety, overcrowding of schools, increase in property taxes, environmental studies of the area and crime.

Antonia Papadouris, whose home driveway is adjacent to the backlot of the motel, said she has seen signs of marijuana and has found hypodermic needles on the ground. She also said that last Friday a teenager playing in the backlot pulled a knife on her father-in-law.

“I don’t feel safe in my neighborhood,” Papadouris said. “My husband wants me to take mace with me.”

However, Danny Roman, a resident of the homeless shelter, said his 15-year-old step-son, who was the one involved in the altercation, never pulled a knife. Instead, Roman said, he merely approached the man after hearing screams and having seen his step-son get injured during the fight.

“I didn’t go with any weapon. I went there humble,” said Roman, who lives at the site with his wife and four children. “I do understand. I do understand, this is a strong community. They have the right to fear…. But my kids go to bed at 8 p.m. Basically we are like in a prison.”

Lorraine Stephens, DHS first deputy commissioner, said the move was necessary because “right now we are in a crisis in New York City.” She blamed the Bloomberg administration, saying there was a “lack of planning around building the necessary capacity for shelter.”

“We were put in a situation where we have to shelter everyone that comes, that is deemed eligible for shelter,” Stephens said.“We were not looking at Westway a month, two months ago. But as of June we became in a crisis because our lack of capacity forced us to look throughout New York City and say where can we house these families?”

 

RECOMMENDED STORIES