Tag Archives: Pan-American Hotel

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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Real estate roundup: New homeless shelters here to stay, huge development planned over LIC family cemetery


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Salvatore Licata

Pan Am and Westway Set to Become Permanent Homeless Shelters, City Says

“At least two emergency homeless shelters that opened this year in Queens, including the controversial site at the former Pan Am Hotel, will become permanent facilities, officials said.” Read more [DNAinfo]

Long in Repose, Last Remnants of a Founding Family Will Leave Long Island City

“More people are buried in Queens than are living there now. This is a story of some of the departed. Precisely how many will not be known, though, until a bulldozer breaks ground early next year for a 42-story apartment tower in Long Island City, on the site of what was once a cemetery, owned by a family that settled there 350 years ago.” Read more [The New York Times]

The Sandwich Bar is spreading out onto 33rd Street– adding 24 seats

“The Sandwich Bar is likely to be getting a whole lot bigger. Alex Valavanis, owner of the 33-01 Ditmars Blvd establishment, recently went before Community Board 1 and was approved for an enclosed sidewalk café.” Read more [Astoria Post]

 

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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Backpacks donated to children of Pan American Hotel homeless shelter


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Councilman Daniel Dromm’s office

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

 

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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.

 

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Community opposes newly approved homeless shelter at East Elmhurst motel


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photo by Salvatore Licata

ANGY ALTAMIRANO AND SALVATORE LICATA

A community is outraged and looking for answers as they learned the city went behind their backs to turn an East Elmhurst motel into a permanent homeless shelter.

Last week, 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.

“We are deeply troubled by this decision and find it disturbing that neither elected officials nor community leaders were informed or consulted beforehand,” a group of elected officials wrote in a letter to DHS Commissioner Gilbert Taylor after being told about the plan the day before the families were expected to begin moving into the motel. “While we appreciate that DHS is legally required to provide shelter for the homeless, the agency’s failure to provide any notification to the people currently living in the area who are impacted by its implementation is unacceptable.”

Community members, such as Gladys Gray, 86, who owns Donhauser Florist right next to the motel, say they are outraged they weren’t told or asked about the motel becoming a permanent shelter.

“[The motel] was once good for the community. Now I’m not sure what is going to happen to us,” said Gray, whose family has owned the flower shop for the past 125 years. “I don’t think this neighborhood can handle it.”

Gray also said that when the 121-room motel was previously used as a temporary emergency overnight shelter business dropped because “people were afraid to come around the shop.” Two years ago the DHS stated it had no plans to convert the motel into a full-time facility.

Rose Marie Poveromo, president of the United Community Civic Association, which will hold an emergency town hall meeting and public protest on July 23, said she is deeply concerned about the shelter after the community allegedly had an agreement with the Bloomberg administration.

“The agreement was that the homeless people would be bused in at night and out in the morning, no permanent housing,” Poveromo said. “We have no voice, the government doesn’t follow the will of people.”

She added that the motel is not an appropriate location for a homeless shelter because there are no nearby public transportation options or stores, and the closest thing to it is a cemetery.

Elected officials also said that along with the lack of community input, they are also concerned about how the addition of more than 100 families would affect the capacity of schools and hospitals in the area which are already overcrowded.

“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,” Poveromo said. “Nobody wants to be homeless and we understand that, but this is not the place to house them.”

Just last month, in a neighborhood right next door, hundreds of protestors spoke against the city’s plan to house more than 200 homeless families at the Pan American Hotel, located at 7900 Queens Blvd. Residents also said they were not asked for their input regarding the shelter.

The DHS did not respond to requests for comment.

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

 

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Elmhurst residents confront homeless families over controversial hotel shelter


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/ Photos by Angy Altamirao

A face-to-face confrontation erupted between homeless families and protestors Monday night over a controversial shelter at an Elmhurst hotel.

After thousands gathered in front of the Pan American hotel during a June 17 protest, Community Board 4 called a meeting at the Elks Lodge on Queens Boulevard on June 30 to discuss the issue of the hotel being turned into a homeless shelter without residents and elected officials given prior notice.

Outside, hundreds of protestors exchanged comments back and forth with shelter occupants yelling at them to “get out,” “get a job,” and calling them “lazy” and “bums.”

Lale West, who recently moved in to the hotel with her son, daughter and husband, said the protestors made her upset, especially seeing little children shouting and holding signs.

“I’m upset because they don’t understand what is going on,” said West, who works as a chef. “Just how they have kids, we all have kids and we’re trying to make ourselves better. It doesn’t mean we’re bums. Today you have a job and tomorrow you’ll wake up and not have one.”

Nonprofit Samaritan Village proposed the Pan American Hotel, located at 7900 Queens Blvd., as a shelter to house 200 homeless people. Currently about 90 are already residing there.

“This is outrageous,” said Emmanuel Escoto, who protested outside the Elks Lodge alongside his 10–year-old daughter Jona. “If the city is so concerned for the homeless, why don’t they provide services for them? This should not be a dumping ground. It’s a shame the city isn’t doing more to help them, they are just sweeping it under the rug — our rug.”

The meeting was open to people who had pre-registered and included representatives from the Department of Homeless Services (DHS), Executive Vice President for Samaritan Village Douglas Apple, community board members and elected officials.

“It is our intention and our plan to work closely with you, to ensure that the program we run at the PanAm serves residents and as part of the community,” Apple said to the audience. “We are not here to add problems, we are not here to create issues.”

Residents who signed 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 and crime.

“I am not against homeless people, I am not against providing support for needy folks who need it. What I am against, and I think that everyone here is in agreement with me, is the process that [Samaritan Village] took to put the shelter in our community,” said Jenny Shao, a science teacher at the International High School for Health Sciences in Elmhurst. “For you to say this is an emergency plan to put into Elmhurst, a community of immigrants who often don’t have a voice, you think you can take advantage of us.”

According to Lorraine Stephens, first deputy commissioner for DHS, the “emergency declaration” to move the families comes from a recent “crisis situation” with a large increase in homeless families.

“In New York City we have a right to shelter, what that means is that we need to make sure there are no homeless children and families on the street,” Stephens said. “Part of that is what caused this emergency declaration that we’re in right now today.”

The politicians present promised the community they would work with Samaritan Village and DHS officials in regards to the hotel.

At the end, the community board unanimously voted on a motion to have the shelter removed from the hotel, but CB 4 chair Louis Walker said the decision is just advisory.

 

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Elmhurst residents say no to homeless shelter at Pan-American Hotel


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photos by Salvatore Licata

Updated: 6/19/2014 2:17 p.m. 

SALVATORE LICATA

Hundreds of protestors flocked to the Pan-American Hotel in Elmhurst to push back on the city’s initiative to house more homeless families in the neighborhood.

“We must step up to the plate now and stop this from going any further,” Roe Daraio, president of the nonprofit Communities of Maspeth & Elmhurst Together Inc. (COMET) Civic Association and organizer of the Tuesday protest, said to the crowd. “We must call to attention the issue of homelessness and how the city is choosing to deal with it.”

In a plan that is supported by Mayor Bill de Blasio, nonprofit Samaritan Village proposed the Pan-American Hotel, located at 7900 Queens Blvd., to house 200 homeless people, including the 36 families already residing there.

This is the fourth homeless shelter in Elmhurst and for residents of the community, it is one too many.

“They did this without any input from the community,” Hilda Chu, one of the protestors, said. “We have three already and now they want to add a fourth. This is so unfair to us.”

Councilman Daniel Dromm addressed the crowd during the June 17 protest and said he was disappointed by the Department of Homeless Services’ (DHS) lack of communication with local officials. He was outraged that he was given no advance notice that the closed-down hotel would now house homeless families, but said protestors must act civilly in their protest and engage in a discussion to figure out the best way to combat the situation.

“Elmhurst is overburdened [with the homeless],” Dromm said. “It is bad policy to bring that many needy people into one place.”

Pan-American Hotel officials declined to comment on the subject.

The DHS will provide the families with three meals a day until the agency can move them to an alternate shelter, the agency said.

“As the number of families with children residing in temporary, emergency shelter grows, we must consider all available options to address our capacity needs and meet our legally mandated right to shelter,” the DHS said in a statement. “In the short term, DHS is using the Queens Boulevard facility to provide essential shelter and supportive services to families with children.”

Advocates previously claimed that both the mayor and City Comptroller Scott Stringer approved the plan, but Stringer’s office said he only approved payments for family shelters across the city but had not weighed in on any specific location.

“[Stringer] believes that communication and adequate community notification are critical parts of this process,”  said a Stringer spokesman.

 

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