Tag Archives: homeless shelter

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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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.

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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.

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Real estate roundup: Property Markets Group receives $130M for planned LIC rental tower


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Property Markets Group 

Property Markets Group gets $130M financing for LIC tower

“Kevin Maloney’s Property Markets Group has locked down more than $130 million in construction financing for its planned 44-story rental tower in Long Island City, property records filed with the city today show.” Read more [The Real Deal]

New sushi restaurant to open on Vernon

“A new sushi restaurant is opening on Vernon Blvd. The restaurant will be located at 46-44 Vernon Blvd between Alobar and  Petey’s Burger.” Read more [LIC Post]

Homeless shelter sparks heated debate at Police Precinct meeting

“The Westway Motor Inn, which was converted into a full-time homeless shelter in July, was at the center of some heated discussion at this month’s 114th Police Precinct meeting on Tuesday. Several residents claimed that there had been an uptick in crime near the 71-11 Astoria Blvd. shelter and that the quality of life for nearby residents is on the decline.” Read more [Astoria Post] 

Mother charged with murder of 4-year-old girl at Jamaica homeless shelter


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

HandcuffsHC0511_L_300_C_Y-624x413

Updated  Monday, Oct. 27, 1:47p.m.

The mother of the child found dead at a Jamaica homeless shelter has been arrested and charged with murder, according to police.

The 4-year-old girl, Linayjah Meraldo, was found unresponsive and unconscious by police on Thursday at 12:50 p.m. at 80-20 134th St., authorities said. EMS pronounced her dead at the scene.

The location has been identified by published reports as the Briarwood Family Residence, a women’s and children’s temporary shelter.

On Friday, 35-year-old Latoya Curry, Linayjah’s mother, was charged with second-degree murder in connection to her daughter’s death, police said. She was also arraigned on charges of assault and endangering the welfare of a child.

According to District Attorney Richard Brown, Curry, who was living at the shelter with her five children, became angry Wednesday night when the toddler squirted hand cream on the kitchen floor. Curry then allegedly hit her daughter in the stomach and face “so hard that a tooth was dislodged.”

The 35-year-old then allegedly dragged the girl into the bedroom and threw her against a wall and onto the bed, striking her again in her face and stomach, Brown said.

The district attorney said the 4-year-old child then cried and complained about pain in her abdomen, but fell asleep. The following morning, Linayjah woke up with a slight fever and continued to complain about pain in her stomach.

Then between 10 and 11:45 a.m. on the same day, Linayjah took a nap, and when Curry checked on her, she was unresponsive.

According to the office of the Medical Examiner, who ruled the toddler’s death a homicide, Linayjah died from blunt force injuries to her torso.

An autopsy performed on Friday showed that the toddler had internal injuries including multiple recent and healed rib fractures, a torn small intestine, internal bleeding and extensive bruising, and the child also appeared malnourished.

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Four-year-old girl found dead at Jamaica homeless shelter


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

CrimeSceneTapeHC1010_L_300_C_R-624x416

Updated 9:05 p.m.

A four-year-old girl was discovered dead Thursday afternoon at a Jamaica homeless shelter, police said.

The toddler, Linayjah Meraldo, was found at 12:50 p.m. inside 80-20 134th St., according to authorities.

The location has been identified by published reports as the Briarwood Family Residence, a women’s and children’s temporary shelter.

The girl was found with possible head trauma, reports said.

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Bayside could be site of new homeless shelter


| ejankiewicz@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Eric Jankiewicz

Updated Thursday, Oct.23

The Department of Homeless Services is considering putting an emergency homeless shelter in Bayside, but before plans are even set, there is already opposition.

There are currently no concrete details in place, and the agency said it hasn’t specified where in Bayside such a shelter would go. But they said that “at this time” there are currently no plans for a shelter in Bayside.

The spokesman added, “However, as the agency sheltering New York’s most vulnerable, it is our hope that communities across the city can find compassion to help and embrace these New Yorkers as they are rebuild their lives so they can soon contribute to a stronger New York from which we can all benefit.”

After hearing about the potential shelter, Councilman Paul Vallone voiced his disapproval.

“Of all the places to target for an emergency homeless shelter, Bayside, one of the most residential neighborhoods in New York City with an extreme lack of public transportation options, is not even remotely appropriate,” he said.

Vallone wrote a letter to the Department of Homeless Services in an attempt to stop the shelter before the city makes a final decision.

“As we’ve seen time and time again, a lack of community involvement, input or dialogue with civic leaders and not offering alternative sites clearly shows a complete disregard for the effect on our community,” Vallone said. “So to make it very clear, I am against this and our community is against this, and we will not sit idly by while the DHS makes their determination.”

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Man who claimed to be cab driver arrested in attack on mom, kids: officials


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

Sketch and video courtesy of NYPD

Updated 5:55 p.m.

A man posing as a livery cab driver has been arrested in an attack on a mother and her young children after he was caught on video elbowing one of the children and tossing another from his car, officials said.

Pedro Vargas, 48, of Yonkers is currently awaiting arraignment in Queens Criminal Court on charges of assault, endangering the welfare of a child and operating a vehicle for hire without having the proper license, according to the district attorney’s office.

Vargas is accused of picking up the 26-year-old victim and her three children, ages 1, 3 and 5, near 207th Street and Post Avenue in Manhattan on Sunday at about 1:50 a.m. Telling the woman that he was a cab driver, he agreed to drive them to 79-00 Queens Blvd., the Pan American Hotel homeless shelter, in Elmhurst, officials said.

After pulling up behind the building, Vargas and the woman got into a dispute, prosecutors said.

According to video footage released by police and the district attorney’s office, the suspect then forcefully tossed the 3-year-old from the vehicle and elbowed the 5-year-old in the head and knocked her to the ground. As the mother struggled with Vargas, her youngest child slipped from her arms and fell onto the sidewalk, prosecutors said. He then got back into his vehicle and as he fled the still open car door struck the 1-year-old.

The children were taken to a local hospital, where they were treated for bruises, swelling and other minor injuries.

Vargas previously served prison time on robbery and kidnapping charges, according to published reports, and was paroled in 2012.

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Video shows suspect who tried to sexually assault woman, attacked kids


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

Video and sketch courtesy of NYPD

Police have released shocking video footage of a driver who tried to sexually assault a woman before attacking her young children in Elmhurst.

Claiming to be a cab driver, the suspect picked up the 26-year-old victim and her three children, ages 1, 3 and 5, at 207th Street in Manhattan on Sunday and agreed to drop them off in Queens, police said.

After stopping behind 79-00 Queens Blvd., the Pan American Hotel homeless shelter, at about 2:45 a.m., the driver attempted to sexually assault the victim while her children were still in the car, according to officials. As the video footage shows, when the woman tried to get out of the vehicle, the suspect elbowed the 5-year-old in the head and tossed the 3-year-old from the car before fleeing.

The children were taken to Elmhurst Hospital with minor injuries.

1746-14 110 Pct-2

Police have also released a sketch of the suspect and describe him as a Hispanic man in his 40s. He was wearing a dark blue sweatsuit with white stripes, had an earring in his right ear and manicured eyebrows, and spoke Spanish.

Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers at (800) 577-TIPS (8477). The public can also submit their tips by logging onto the Crime Stoppers website or can text their tips to CRIMES (274637), then enter TIP577. All calls are strictly confidential.

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Man claiming to be cabbie tried to sexually assault mom with kids in vehicle: cops


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

Sketch courtesy of NYPD

A man claiming to be a cab driver tried to sexually assault a woman in Elmhurst before attacking her young children who were also in the vehicle, police said.

The 26-year-old victim was picked up with her three children, ages 1, 3 and 5, by the suspect at 207th Street in Manhattan on Sunday, officials said. Stating that he was a cab driver, he agreed to drop them off In Queens.

After stopping behind 79-00 Queens Blvd., the Pan American Hotel homeless shelter, at about 2:45 a.m., the driver attempted to sexually assault the victim while her children were still in the car, according to police. When the woman tried to get out of the vehicle, the suspect elbowed the 5-year-old in the head and forcibly removed the 3-year-old from the car before fleeing.

The children were taken to Elmhurst Hospital with minor injuries.

Police describe the suspect as a Hispanic man in his 40s. He was wearing a dark blue sweatsuit with white stripes, had an earring in his right ear and manicured eyebrows, and spoke Spanish.

Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers at (800) 577-TIPS (8477). The public can also submit their tips by logging onto the Crime Stoppers website or can text their tips to CRIMES (274637), then enter TIP577. All calls are strictly confidential.

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Protestors demand better housing for Pan American homeless shelter residents


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photo by Asha Mahadevan

BY ASHA MAHADEVAN

Demands were made and tears were shed Wednesday morning at a protest outside the Pan American Hotel homeless shelter in Elmhurst, but this one was different from other protests of the past few months.

Protestors during the Aug. 20 rally were in support of the shelter’s residents and demanded permanent affordable housing for them.

The organizations Picture The Homeless, DRUM – South Asian Organizing Center and CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities gave the shelter’s residents a platform to air their grievances.

“The main purpose is to ratchet down the feelings between the community and the shelter,” said a Picture The Homeless spokeswoman, who goes by the moniker Ms. K. “We all want the same thing: permanent housing. That is less disruptive for the homeless and for the community.”

She also alleges that the city pays the shelter more than $3,000 per person each month and instead, if they offered the money to the residents as a subsidy toward their rent, many of them would not have become homeless in the first place.

“It is much cheaper than sending them to an area they are not familiar with,” she said.

Christine Napolitano, who lives with her three children in the shelter, agreed, adding that the four of them have to live in one room and eat food that “you won’t even give your dog.”

Napolitano is not allowed to cook in the shelter. Her children are enrolled in schools in the Bronx but her repeated requests to be transferred to a shelter in that borough have been denied.

“We are not bad people because we are homeless,” she said. “We are not here to cause trouble.”

The message seems to be getting through to the community, which for the past few months, have gathered outside the shelter and yelled insults at the residents.

“We are not against the homeless. We just don’t like the way the government is spending taxpayers’ money. If there was more affordable housing, they can get an apartment with a living room and a kitchen for $1,600,” said Irene Chu, an Elmhurst resident for the past 40 years. “Instead, children cannot even do their homework in this room in this shelter. The homeless are really the victims here. They are being abused while someone else makes all the money.”

Elmhurst resident Tom Lai claimed housing the homeless in shelters instead of creating affordable housing was “a bad idea” but he is hopeful that “good sense will prevail.”

Jaime Weisberg, 38, traveled from her home in Astoria to the shelter to offer her support.

“I have been seeing the hatred coming from the community,” she said, referring to the previous protests. “It is appalling. This doesn’t represent Queens. We are better than this.”

The Department of Homeless Services said the shelter offers residents three meals a day, case management, and job and housing counseling, which serve as the foundation for the residents to secure jobs, save money and be able to move to self-sufficiency and permanent housing.

“We are always open to hearing ideas on how to improve our families’ stay in shelters, as we know this is not an easy time for them,” DHS said.

 

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