Tag Archives: homeless

City called to task on Pan Am shelter by pols, civic groups

| asuriel@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of the office of state Senator Tony Avella

A homeless shelter housed at the former Pan American Hotel in Elmhurst continues to draw criticism from a local lawmaker and city groups demanding accountability.

State Senator Tony Avella held a rally with civic group Elmhurst United on Sunday to oppose the conditions of the temporary homeless shelter, which does not include kitchens in the family units. Despite having been thrice rejected by the city comptroller, Samaritan Village, a nonprofit organization that runs the shelter, submitted another proposal to make the emergency shelter permanent.

Avella argued that the city needs to provide more appropriate shelters for those in need and include the community in the site selection process. The Queens Boulevard site has multiple open complaints and violations, along with civil penalties related to a failure to certify a correction of one of the violations, according to the Department of Buildings’ website.

“When it comes to site selection, rather than proactively finding suitable buildings capable of housing the homeless population, it settles for the first warehouse that presents itself,” he said.

The rally came following a Senate task force hearing on Wednesday, at which Department of Homeless Services (DHS) Commissioner Gilbert Taylor testified that he was completely unaware of allegations that Building Department officials were denied access to the Pan Am facility (also known as the Boulevard Family Center) for inspections.

THE COURIER/Photo by Alina Suriel

THE COURIER/Photo by Alina Suriel

Avella, a vocal opponent of the shelter who led the Senate forum, brought up the issue after a testimony by Taylor that references routine inspections on shelters.

The senator pointed to records on DOB website that indicated that inspectors were denied access to the site during a Sept. 22 inspection related to complaints that the site was having renovations done without the proper permits. While no alterations were observed on the building’s exterior or in first-floor common areas, a man in the lobby denied the agency access to guest rooms.

“You’re reporting that you have these inspections going on, but what happens when the agency who is responsible is denied access?” Avella said.

Taylor claimed that, to his knowledge, the DOB, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development and the Fire Department have all had routine access to the site. He said that he would need to follow up with Avella to get more information on the reported refusal at the Pan Am shelter.

“To your question about the Buildings Department being denied access to the boulevard family shelter in Queens now housed in a former Pan Am hotel, I am not aware of that,” Taylor said.

Representatives of Samaritan Village were not immediately available for comment.


Op-ed: Finding compassion for the homeless

| oped@queenscourier.com


As a resident of Queens, I take great pride in my community. I grew up encouraged to dream and fulfill endless possibilities and as destiny would have it, I was blessed with the opportunity to help others in my community make their own dreams into reality.

Six years ago, my mother adopted a 4-year-old girl named Miracle who suffered from severe and frequent nightmares as a result of her family’s neglect. Miracle always lit up the room with her smile and happy spirit, but her fears haunted her on a nightly basis. To help Miracle manage these tough times, my mother began introducing stress coping items and reading to her at night. Soon, her nightmares were almost nonexistent and that’s where my idea for the Precious Dreams Foundation was born.

Feeling inspired and the need to give back to my community, I felt the desire to help other children who may be struggling to dream, like my sister. I established the Precious Dreams Foundation to help kids in shelter and foster care find comfort in their darkest hour, instead helping shed light on their dreams. Now in its third year, I realize the kids of Precious Dreams, of our local communities, of our entire New York City homeless population, need the help of all of us.

Some of these children hail right from places like the old Pan Am Hotel on Queens Boulevard in Elmhurst, or the former Westway Hotel. These are children who have hopes, dreams and aspirations and who just want to be loved and accepted, like all children throughout our city. Their families come from different walks of life, who now find themselves locked in a vicious cycle of poverty, a lack of affordable housing and an unstable economy.

When I hear about residents, and entire communities, outraged over the placement of a shelter, it saddens me because falling on hard times is not something reserved for a select class. This happens all across the city, in every borough. Crisis doesn’t discriminate, it doesn’t pick and choose its victims, and at any given moment, anyone of us can experience some of the hardships so many of our fellow New Yorkers face.

I understand there are no easy answers to homelessness. I understand it’s a complex issue. But, the truth is, we cannot continue to walk these city streets, live in our neighborhoods, and pretend like the problem is going to solve itself, or isn’t our problem. It is incumbent on us to help people up instead of continuing to break them down.

We all have dreams, hopes and aspirations. Let’s offer jobs, institute internships, volunteer with organizations and really connect with our afflicted neighbors. It’s time to reincorporate the homeless back into the fabric of our communities and to rebuild a strong, stable New York. It is in our power to help break, and end, this vicious cycle and help turn the dreams of our fellow New Yorkers into reality.

Russell is the co-founder of the Precious Dreams Foundation.


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.


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.”


LIC public art looks to raise awareness about homelessness

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photo Courtesy of Fanny Allié

Residents and visitors in Long Island City looking for a place to sit will get more than just that when coming into contact with a new public art installation aiming to raise awareness about homelessness.

Brooklyn artist Fanny Allié has come together with the Parks Department to display her most recent artwork called “A Bench for the Night” at the NYC Parks Greenstreet on Jackson Avenue and 46th Avenue.

Allié’s piece, which will be on view through November, is a wooden bench shaped in the silhouette of a sleeping person, reminding those who see is that a public bench serves as a potential bed for some New Yorkers.

“A Bench for the Night,” Allié’s second artwork with that Parks Department’s Art in the Parks program, offers viewers a look into how individuals who live on the street can often become dehumanized.

This piece is a continuation of the artist’s focus on the issue of homelessness. She took part in the Engaging Artists Residency in 2014 organized by the Artist Volunteer Center and More Art, which largely focused on homelessness. During this residency, artists were encouraged to engage in volunteer opportunities – volunteering at least half a day per week at a local charity – and interactive workshops with professionals in the fields of fine art and activism.

Allié’s Long Island City art installation is also a continuation of her 2011 piece called “The Glowing Homeless,” created for Bring to Light NYC: Nuit Blanche in Brooklyn, and which featured a neon outline of a human form that rested of a park bench.

When preparing for the installation, Allié noticed the area where the piece would go lacked seating. Along with raising awareness for homelessness, she has also created a new social space in the plaza.

According to a description of “A Bench for the Night,” the piece looks to reflect a person’s desire to look for an isolated place to rest and be removed from the movement of the city.


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.”


Arrest in Cambria Heights stabbing death

| ctumola@queenscourier.com

File Photo

Police have arrested a suspect in the murder of a 40-year-old homeless man who was found fatally stabbed in Cambria Heights, authorities announced late Friday.

Andre Perrin, 48, has been charged with second-degree murder and criminal possession of a weapon in the death of Dshawn Rogers, cops said.

Officers discovered Rogers on 230th Street outside a home near 116th Avenue at about 4:20 p.m. on Thursday, authorities said. He was unconscious and had been stabbed in the torso.

Rogers was taken to Jamaica Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Cops believe a dispute between Rogers and Perrin, who lives a couple of blocks from the crime scene, led to the stabbing. The relationship between the two was not immediately clear.


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.


Astoria composer and ‘Saw Lady’ featured in new Richard Gere movie

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Michelle Nishry

Two Astoria musicians are slicing their way into Hollywood.

The musical piece titled “Lullaby for the Forgotten,” written by composer Scott Munson and performed by Natalia Paruz, also known as the “Saw Lady,” is featured in the upcoming film “Time Out of Mind” starring Richard Gere.

The film follows Gere, who plays a homeless man as he tries to reconnect with his estranged daughter, according to a description on IMDb.

According to Paruz, the director of the movie reached out to her years after having seen her perform at Grand Central Station. Paruz filmed a scene with Gere in Grand Central, but the part of the scene in which Paruz appeared was later cut from the film because of time constraints.

The song by Munson, who won the 2014 NY Innovative Theater Award for Outstanding Original Music for his piece in a play last month, is still heard in the background of the Grand Central scene that made the film.

“It was really cool, [Gere] is so sweet and the nicest, friendliest person,” Paruz said. “He is so approachable and it’s really easy to talk with him.”

For the musician, who has been playing the saw as an instrument for the past 20 years, the subject of the movie hit close to her heart after she spent a long time performing in subways and train stations and met many homeless people.

“It felt more involved than the other movies where I just go into the recording studio and then get out,” said Paruz, who performed and appeared in a scene alongside Adrian Brody in the 2002 film “Dummy.” “This movie feels more personal to me because of the subject.”

Each person involved in the film had to give a dedication that appears when the credits roll. Paruz chose to make a dedication to Joe Lumis, a homeless man she used to run into daily at the Union Square subway station.

“The aim of the movie was the focus on homeless people and for me to participate in something that is trying to make awareness of the plight was important,” she said.

Paruz’s interest in playing the saw came after an accident destroyed her dreams of one day being a professional dancer.

“All of a sudden it was taken away from me and all of a sudden I didn’t know what to do with myself,” Paruz said.

Later, after going on a trip to Europe with her parents and watching a man play the saw, Paruz returned to New York and began to teach herself how to play the tool.

“The reason why [the saw] attracted me so much is that it’s the only instrument that the entire instrument moves,” Paruz said. “It’s kind of like a dance.”

Today, Paruz teaches others to play the saw and, for the past 11 years, has been hosting the NYC Musical Saw Festival in Astoria, which started with four players and now features over 50 musicians from all over the world. The next festival will be on May 30, 2015, at Trinity Lutheran Church.

“It’s an affordable musical instrument,” Paruz said. “Anyone can afford a saw, if they don’t have it in their toolbox already.”

Paruz will be playing the saw and also the bells together with the bell choir at Trinity Lutheran Church, located at 31-18 37th St., this Sunday at 10:30 a.m.


Protestors demand better housing for Pan American homeless shelter residents

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photo 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.



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?”



Families at Pan American homeless shelter reportedly bused to movies during third protest

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Angy Altamirano

Residents of the controversial Pan American Hotel homeless shelter were kept away from protestors during another rally against the opening of the site, according to a published report.

About 550 residents gathered Tuesday to hold another protest in front of the hotel located on Queens Boulevard and prior to the rally, the Department of Homeless Services arranged to have 230 children and adults from the shelter bused to the movies, DNAinfo reported.

The residents were taken to see “How to Train Your Dragon 2” paid for by the agency at a theater in Jamaica in order to remove the children from any hatred that “potentially could be exhibited” during the July 22 rally, according to DNAinfo.

Last night’s rally is the third held by residents opposing the shelter which currently houses more than 180 families. The community has said that the hotel was turned into the shelter, by nonprofit Samaritan Village, without residents and elected officials being given prior notice.

The last protest, which coincided with Community Board 4’s meeting with the DHS and residents, was filled with hundreds of protestors shouting criticisms back and forth with shelter residents.

Two weeks ago, just a neighborhood away, DHS approved the conversion of the 121-room Westway Motor Inn in East Elmhurst into a permanent homeless shelter as well.

Community members and elected officials in that area also say they were not told or asked about the decision.

The hotel previously was used as an emergency overnight site for homeless families, but two years ago the DHS has said it would not turn the motel into a permanent homeless shelter.

An emergency town hall meeting and public protest against the East Elmhurst homeless shelter is scheduled for Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria.



125-year-old East Elmhurst flower shop blossoms next to controversial homeless shelter

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/ Photo by Angy Altamirano

For more than a century, one East Elmhurst family has been helping their neighborhood bloom.

Donhauser Florist, located at 71-01 Astoria Blvd., was established in 1889 by Hans Donhauser, a German florist who immigrated to the United States. While working at a Brooklyn cemetery he heard that St. Michael’s Cemetery in Queens was in need of a florist.

He then moved to East Elmhurst and built a greenhouse on 71st Street and Astoria Boulevard. After a few years, 12 more greenhouses were added and a flower shop was built on 49th Street and Astoria Boulevard.

Donhauser’s family worked at the shop, including his sons, daughters and even his great granddaughter Gladys.

“When your parents are in the business, you’re in the business,” said Gladys about working at the shop since she was 12 years old. “It’s all I’ve known.”

Donhauser Florist moved to 71-01 Astoria Blvd. and replaced one existing greenhouse, while the other 12 were later sold to become the Westway Motor Inn.

Gladys, who grew up at the house currently still standing next to the shop, has owned the store since 1977 together with her husband William Gray, who initially started working at the 49th Street shop.

Since then the Grays have been providing flower arrangements for their neighbors, some of whom they have shared first communions with and years later, weddings. William even arranged all the flowers for his own wedding.

The shop provides flowers for visitors to St. Michael’s Cemetery, located across the Grand Central Parkway, first communions, weddings and other special occasions.

However, the Grays, who have been married for 60 years, say business has been up and down ever since the city’s Department of Homeless Services decided to first use the Westway Motor Inn, located right next door, as a temporary homeless shelter.

“It was once an exquisite hotel with beautiful rooms and a pool,” Gladys said. “Since about a decade ago we started to have problems with it. People were afraid to come around the shop.”

Two weeks ago, the city approved converting the motel into a permanent homeless shelter housing more than 120 families.

Although they are nervous on how the permanent shelter will affect the community and their business, the couple continues to welcome customers with smiles on their faces.

“I hope it stays for 125 more years,” Gladys said.



Emergency town hall to be held on controversial East Elmhurst homeless shelter

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Angy Altamirano

Community members will have their voices heard during an emergency town hall meeting on Wednesday over the city’s decision to turn an East Elmhurst motel into a permanent homeless shelter.

On July 9 , the city’s Department of Homeless Services (DHS) approved the conversion of the Westway Motor Inn, located at 71-11 Astoria Blvd., into a shelter to immediately house over 100 homeless families, according to officials. The shelter will be managed by social services provider Women In Need.

Residents, elected officials and local leaders say they are outraged they weren’t told or asked about the motel becoming a permanent shelter.

The United Community Civic Association will hold the emergency town hall meeting as well as a public protest on July 23 opposing the approved site selection.

“We have nothing against any of the groups that will be living here. The site is our concern. Only ones that will benefit from it are the owners of Westway,” Rose Marie Poveromo, president of the United Community Civic Association, previously told The Queens Courier. “Nobody wants to be homeless and we understand that, but this is not the place to house them.”

Since the families have moved into the shelter, The Courier has observed Tempur-Pedic mattresses being delivered to the motel and also what looks like a recreational area being constructed in the back lot of the site.

A neighborhood resident said he has also seen portable electric kitchens being delivered to the motel.

The DHS did not respond to numerous requests for comment.

The town hall meeting will be held on Wednesday, July 23 at 6:30 p.m. at the Museum of the Moving Image, located at 36-01 35th Ave.



Stringer criticizes DHS for handling of homeless shelter placement process

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photos by Salvatore Licata

Amid ongoing controversy over several Queens homeless shelters, the city comptroller has said the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) is “failing” in the way it deals with homelessness throughout the five boroughs.

In a letter to DHS Commissioner Gilbert Taylor, City Comptroller Scott Stringer addressed the ongoing “homelessness crisis, particularly among families” in New York City. He noted that there are different causes that contribute to the rise, however the “current playbook” in dealing with the issue needs to be changed.

“Especially concerning to my office is the emergency contracting approach that the Department of Homeless Services has employed to site new facilities in neighborhoods with minimal community consultation,” Stringer wrote in the letter on Thursday.

In one case, Glendale residents have been fighting for more than two years to stop an abandoned manufacturing plant from becoming a homeless shelter. The community complained that they were given little to no notice about the shelter.

“DHS must begin to immediately repair its relationships with local communities by creating a robust consultative process with community stakeholders for all of its currently planned sites and for those proposed in the future,” Stringer wrote. “This process should allow for meaningful input from local stakeholders, advocacy groups, and elected officials.”

In the past month, two western Queens neighborhoods have also had to deal with unannounced homeless shelters being moved into two hotels.

Hundreds of protestors spoke against the city’s initiative to house homeless families at the Pan American Hotel on Queens Boulevard in Elmhurst without asking for any input from the community.

Last week, the DHS approved the conversion of the Westway Motor Inn on Astoria Boulevard into a shelter housing over 100 families. Residents and elected officials are outraged the agency let them know about the shelter just a day before the families began moving into it.

“If DHS continues to neglect communities until after emergency contracting decisions have been made it will neither benefit from local knowledge of the area nor engender harmonious integration with the surrounding communities,” Stringer wrote.