Tag Archives: homeless shelter

City opens new homeless shelter at former East Elmhurst hotel


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Angy Altamirano

Updated Monday, Aug. 24, 11:57 a.m. 

Queens has become the home of yet another homeless shelter.

Starting Monday, homeless families with children will begin to move into a new shelter that has opened at the former site of the Clarion Hotel, located at 94-00 Ditmars Blvd. in East Elmhurst.

The shelter, the city’s first this year, is expected to have a total of 169 units and comes as the city continues to deal with an increase in the number of homeless people.

Since the end of June, the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) has seen a 20 percent increase in families entering the DHS family shelter intake center, with over 5,750 over the last two months. The agency has almost reached capacity with only .05 percent of space remaining.

“This administration has invested over $1 billion in new funding over four years to address homelessness in New York City, with a focus on preventing homelessness, improving conditions in shelter, and helping New Yorkers move from shelter into permanent housing. While we’ve moved over 13,000 individuals from shelter to permanent housing since January 2014, eviction continues to be the main cause of homelessness in New York City, and we’re now seeing the summer uptick of homeless families entering our shelter system,” a DHS spokesperson said. “In order to ensure we have the capacity to house those in need, we’re opening a new shelter — the first new shelter to open this year — at the former Clarion Hotel in Queens.”

The nonprofit CAMBA will provide various on-site social and re-housing services to the families to help them move to self-sufficiency and house permanency.

Meals will be provided at the former hotel and DHS will work to help the families have “adequate” transportation to and from appointments and schools.

DHS will also develop and implement a security plan through meetings with the NYPD and community affairs to ensure safety for both shelter residents and the surrounding community.

The agency also held a community meeting last week with local community leaders to discuss community concerns.

State Senator Jose Peralta, who represents East Elmhurst, voiced his outrage on the announcement of the new homeless shelter which he said again was implemented without any real community input.

“Here we go again, another permanent homeless shelter coming into my district, which makes it the second one under this administration. But the real kicker here is the so-called use of their emergency authority which is a cover for just bringing a homeless shelter into the community without any community input,” Peralta said. “My constituents are very understanding of the necessity of the city’s obligation to house the homeless, as well as understand that anyone is a paycheck away from being homeless. But, the fact that the city seeks input after the fact is nothing but a Bloomberg or Giuliani tactic of shoving a homeless shelter down a community’ s throat.”

The Clarion Hotel shelter will be only 2 miles away from the Westway Motor Inn, located at 71-11 Astoria Blvd., which last year outraged the local community when the city transformed it into a shelter housing over 100 homeless families.

In nearby Elmhurst, the community continues to fight against the city’s proposal to convert the site of the former Pan American Hotel, at 79-00 Queens Blvd., into a permanent shelter.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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Addabbo talks homeless shelter at Middle Village meeting


| agiudice@ridgewoodtimes.com

Photo by Anthony Giudice

After reports surfaced of the emergency homeless shelter located at the former Pan American Hotel being infested with rats, members of the Juniper Park Civic Association (JPCA) continue to voice their concerns over the planned opening of a homeless shelter in Glendale.

During the April 30 JPCA meeting in Middle Village, president Robert Holden asked state Senator Joseph Addabbo to write a letter to NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer, asking him not to sign any contracts with Samaritan Village. The nonprofit group operates the Pan American emergency shelter and has a pending contract to operate a shelter at 78-16 Cooper Ave. in Glendale.

“Can you write us a letter and say, with all the problems with Samaritan Village, we need them to back off and don’t expand into other facilities?” Holden asked Addabbo, adding that there would be “rats and other things” at the proposed Cooper Avenue shelter — just like in the Pan Am shelter. “Certainly they don’t deserve to run any facility.”

Addabbo responded that he will have a personal conversation with Stringer about the proposed Glendale shelter.

“This is what my community needs, I don’t think you should sign it,” Addabbo said he would tell Stringer. “I think it’s a wrong road going down with Samaritan Village.”

Addabbo also mentioned a town hall meeting last May in which the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) said no families would be put into the Pan Am Hotel location due to the fact that there were no kitchens in the rooms where they wanted families to live.

“And about four weeks later, what do you know, families are in there,” Addabbo said. “It just confirmed for me that you cannot trust Samaritan Village, you cannot trust Department of Homeless Services.”

Holden assured those in attendance that their fighting, largely conducted in partnership with the Glendale Middle Village Coalition, has not gone unheard. The opening of the shelter has been delayed due to their continuing fight.

“We’ve been winning rounds, by the way,” Holden said. “The reason this thing hasn’t gone forward is because the coalition has been battling; every time they put something in with the Department of Buildings, we challenge it.”

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Pan Am Hotel homeless shelter infested with vermin: report


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Angy Altamirano

Residents at the emergency homeless shelter located at the former Pan American Hotel are being visited by unwanted guests that have been munching on trash left piled up behind the site, according to a published report.

Members of the community surrounding the homeless shelter, located at 7900 Queens Blvd., captured a pack of rats in the act of looking through the garbage for a meal on April 17, according to the NY Daily News.

Business owners and local residents reportedly say that the garbage, which at first was being put inside a dumpster, has since been piled up in the lot behind the hotel.

Along with the reports of the rats, residents of the homeless shelter said they have issues with cockroaches inside their apartments, which in some cases hold four to five people, the Daily News said.

The former Elmhurst hotel houses over 700 residents, made up of families, many of which have small children.


The city had previously been seeking approval for a five-year, $42 million contract with the nonprofit Samaritan Village Inc. to operate the location as a permanent shelter.

Officials from the city’s Department of Homeless Services (DHS) told the Daily News that as of April 18, Samaritan Village “has been working with the community and is purchasing a garbage compactor that will address these garbage concerns.”

“We are currently working with Department of Sanitation (DSNY), which has provided the specs for the compactor and will provide containers with lids. The garbage will then be compacted. We hope to have this remedied as soon as possible,” the DHS said.

In the past, 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.

Last November, the grassroots organization Elmhurst United, which has been voicing its opposition to the shelter since day one, said the conditions at the site violate city laws.

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.”

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Middle Village residents continue fight against Glendale shelter


| agiudice@ridgewoodtimes.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Anthony Giudice

As proponents for turning an abandoned Glendale warehouse into a homeless shelter try to move that plan forward, the Middle Village Property Owners and Residents Association (MVPORA) vows to continue to fight against it.

Samaritan Village, the company proposing to build the shelter, still has not conducted an environmental impact study for the former factory at 78-16 Cooper Ave., according to Sal Crifasi, president of both the MVPORA and the Glendale/Middle Village Coalition. The coalition consists of residents, businesspersons and community leaders dedicated to opposing the shelter primarily through legal action.

At the MVPORA meeting on Tuesday, Crifasi said an impact study would require Samaritan Village to research how putting a homeless shelter in the area would affect the schools, the sewage system, the traffic and the environment of the neighborhood.

“Because of our input, we stalled it almost a year already,” Crifasi said. “They were supposed go in there last year already, I mean, open and operating, but because of us making a little noise about this, they are having problems.”

There have also been some changes made to the shelter’s plans due to the location of the site.

Crifasi explained that the site is located in an “M zone,” which only allows for the construction of manufacturing buildings.

“For an M zone, you’re only allowed to put manufacturing, but you could put a hotel,” Crifasi said. “So what they did is, instead of 125 [units] they changed the plans and made it now a 70-room hotel. They’re allowed to put a hotel by code.”

The controversy over whether it will be an actual hotel or a place to warehouse the homeless is not deterring MVPORA from continuing their fight.

“We’re fighting it and I feel comfortable and confident that we are going to win,” Crifasi said. “We’re going to win one way or another.”

Due to the overcrowded schools in the district, Crifasi suggested that Queens is in need of three high schools. The shelter site, he and others claim, would be more suitable for redevelopment as a public school.

“Now we’re trying to see if we can get a high school there, because if they’re saying that [the site is] good enough for people to live there, then maybe it’s good enough for kids to go there.”

“We’re fighting,” Crifasi assured those in attendance. “We’re not putting up the white flag yet.”

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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.

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Addabbo suggests using proposed Glendale homeless shelter for veteran housing


| agiudice@ridgewoodtimes.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre

The controversial plan to turn the abandoned warehouse located at 78-16 Cooper Ave. in Glendale into a homeless shelter appears to be moving forward, but state Senator Joseph Addabbo wants to make that proposal a little more specific.

If the city is going to make the site into a homeless shelter, Addabbo said, it should extend the facility to the homeless who have fought for this nation’s freedom.

“I will never agree that housing any individual at the Cooper Avenue site is a good idea,” said Addabbo, who is the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs. “But if the city is insistent on housing people, why not focus our attention on an overlooked issue? We can help the veterans who helped us maintain the quality of life we have come to know instead of warehousing possibly over 100 families into this building.”

“The bottom line is that nobody deserves to be without a home, especially those who initially left their homes to defend our rights,” he added.

Nationwide, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates that one-third of the homeless population has served in the military at one point. Reportedly, the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) estimated that anywhere between 2,000 and 3,500 veterans in New York City are homeless.

Bringing families to the site could run the risk of further crowding school district 24, one of the most overcrowded school districts in the city, Addabbo charged. Changing the site to veterans housing would have minimal effect on the surrounding communities and also address the citywide issue of overcrowded schools.

Even so, Addabbo still believes that there are better uses for the long-defunct warehouse.

“With this Glendale facility, we can repurpose it in a way that helps people but also doesn’t negatively impact the community,” he added. “This site could alternatively also be used as senior housing, school or an animal shelter, as was suggested by a constituent, all of which are lacking in the borough and the city.”

While the DHS intends to address the current homeless crisis, the Cooper Avenue site would not be ready for residents for over a year, the senator noted.

“Keeping the proposal for 78-16 Cooper Ave. as a homeless shelter does not immediately serve anyone,” Addabbo said.

The Glendale and Middle Village communities have been combating the proposed homeless shelter since its inception. Civic and business leaders in both neighborhoods formed the Glendale/Middle Village Coalition for the specific purpose of filing legal action to stop the shelter’s development.

Since its formation, the coalition has raised thousands of dollars to fight the placement of the shelter and have filed an Article 78, an appeal to the city’s Environmental Assessment that it did on the site. The coalition charged the assessment was not complete and wants the city to do a full Environmental Impact study before moving forward with any plans.

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Buildings Department OKs construction of Glendale homeless shelter


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre

Updated 5:28 p.m.

BY SALVATORE LICATA, ROBERT POZARYCKI AND LIAM LA GUERRE 

Building plans to construct a controversial homeless shelter in Glendale are moving ahead.

The Department of Buildings approved permits on Tuesday for the conversion of a vacant factory building into transitional housing, which the community has repeatedly opposed for years.

The dilapidated factory will have 103 units, smaller than the 125-room shelter originally proposed, encompassing 74,542 square feet of residential space, according to the filings with the Buildings Department. The four-story building will also be built with parking spaces for 33 vehicles, per plans.

The Department of Homeless Services (DHS) has a pending five-year, $27 million contract with Samaritan Village to operate the homeless shelter at the site. Residents and neighborhood representatives are upset that the permits were granted.

“Trying to sneak this in, it’s all political,” said Sal Crifasi, president of the Glendale/Middle Village Coalition, a group of residents and community leaders devoted to fighting against the shelter. “Somebody is getting something. They are rubber stamping everything. I think someone is getting paid.”

The Glendale/Middle Village Coalition has raised about $80,000 from hundreds of residents to legally combat the shelter.

They are appealing against the Environmental Assessment the city did on the land. The coalition’s members feel that the city did not take a “hard look” at the area in order to determine the impact of a homeless shelter at the site. They want a full Environmental Impact Study done.

The coalition has a hearing on April 9 regarding its Article 78 proceeding.

Politicians were also disappointed by the news of the approved plans and pledged to continue to fight the construction of the shelter.

State Senator Joe Addabbo is trying to set up a meeting with DHS and the mayor’s office for next week to talk about the plans.

“We are going to continue to fight this and remain vigilant,” he said.

“To date, we haven’t seen the Department of Homeless Services live up to its commitment of transparency and engagement with local communities in the siting of these facilities,” City Comptroller Scott Stringer said in a statement. “I urge DHS to engage and update all stakeholders about the development of the Glendale site, including these Department of Building permits.”

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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Local authorities try to put an end to College Point homeless encampment


| ejankiewicz@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Eric Jankiewicz

A team of city officials, police and advocates for the homeless swept into a makeshift encampment under a ramp to the Whitestone Expressway, relocating those taking shelter there to safer quarters and fencing off the barren lot.

The fenced off area is under the Whitestone Expressway on the border between College Point and Flushing and is popular among the homeless seeking shelter, according to Councilman Paul Vallone’s office. Police have known about the area and periodically evacuate it. Despite the fence, the homeless kept returning. But Vallone is hoping that the area will be rid of shelter seekers now that the Department of Homeless Services and Common Ground, a nonprofit organization, helped relocate the people who called the Whitestone Expressway their home.

“This combined effort by our city’s Agencies was effective in cleaning up and relocating the homeless encampment in College Point,” Vallone said. “Particularly, I applaud the DHS and Common Ground for going above and beyond to work with the chronically homeless to encourage them to relocate and seek out shelter and housing as we work to try and ensure that no one has to live outside on the streets.”

Vallone’s office estimated that there were around 30-50 people using the underpass as a shelter. Neither the city nor Common Ground returned a request for comment.

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Bayside no longer under consideration for homeless shelter site


| ejankiewicz@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Eric Jankiewicz

Potential plans to create an emergency homeless shelter in Bayside have been scrapped after a month of deliberations.

In late October, the Department of Homeless Services looked into Bayside as a possible candidate to host a homeless shelter. But, according to Councilman Paul Vallone, those plans have since been removed.

After hearing about the potential shelter last month, Vallone wrote a letter to the agency in which he asserted his belief that Bayside was not a good site for a shelter because of a lack of transportation and the residential nature of the area.

“I thank the Department of Homeless Services for listening to our concerns,” Vallone said, “and deciding to abandon plans for an emergency shelter in Bayside. As I’ve said before, my district not only has the lowest population of homeless persons in the whole city, but Bayside in particular lacks the infrastructure and public transportation options to support an emergency shelter. I’m glad that the DHS considered these obstacles and concerns and came to agree that Bayside is an inappropriate location.”

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