Tag Archives: Shelter

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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Councilwoman Crowley proposes alternative to controversial Glendale homeless shelter


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photo by Jeff Stone

BENJAMIN FANG

The proposed homeless shelter in Glendale is too close to chemicals, too far from public transportation and would pack an already overcrowded school district, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley said in a letter to city officials on Thursday.

“I do not believe that the proposed site is a suitable location for a family shelter,” Crowley said in a statement to Department of Homeless Services (DHS) Commissioner Gilbert Taylor. “Community Board 5, countless residents and I urge you to select an alternative location.”

She mentioned less costly alternatives suggested by Mayor Bill de Blasio, such as setting aside affordable housing units for the homeless.

The DHS released an independent environmental analysis of the area on July 1, deeming it suitable for the 125-family shelter. It plans to move forward with the site, which was originally proposed by the nonprofit Samaritan Village.

Christopher Miller, a DHS spokesperson, said they are currently reviewing the councilwoman’s letter. “We feel that the environmental review was extremely thorough as it looked at everything from schools, to transportation, to soil quality,” Miller said in an email.

Crowley said that District 24 is already the most overcrowded school district in the city. The shelter would bring up to 160 school children into the area, according to the DHS-commissioned study.

She also listed specific questions concerning the environmental risks. She asked how impending renovations would impact soil near the facility and potential contamination from a nearby chemical manufacturer.

Crowley asked that answers be provided before entering the next stage of contract negotiations for the shelter.

 

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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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Star of Queens: Princy Ann Abraham


| mchan@queenscourier.com

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Volunteer at St. Nick’s Men’s Shelter

Community Involvement: Through Campus Ministry at St. John’s University, Princy Ann Abraham discovered St. Nick’s Men’s Shelter in Jamaica, where homeless men around the city are brought for dinner and overnight accommodation. Abraham works with other volunteers to cook complete dinners for small groups of men. After cooking, she sits down to enjoy dinner and conversations with the individuals.
Personal: Abraham was born and raised in Rockland County, New York. She currently lives in Queens, where she is an active student at St. John’s. During her free time, she loves to kick box and enjoys trying different forms of dance, including two Indian forms – bharatanatyam and bhangra. She feels that maintaining as much physical activity as possible is the best way for her to release any negative energy.

Occupation: A full time undergraduate student studying legal studies, philosophy and government & politics, she will be graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in May and plans on going to law school shortly after. She also works on campus with the Department of Student Development to serve as a liaison between first year students and the university.

Biggest Challenge: “Sometimes it is difficult to make the individuals as comfortable as possible at the shelter. We try to keep dietary restrictions in mind when we cook each meal. We also limit ourselves from sensitive topics to make sure the men are in a positive and supportive atmosphere. I do my very best to assure the men that they can talk to us about anything, but sometimes they do not converse with us.”

Favorite Memory: “One day the meal we made (tacos and rice) was completely devoured in a matter of minutes. I am still learning how to cook, so this made me very happy.”

Inspiration: “My inspiration to volunteer is knowing that I am capable of making a difference in the lives of individuals no matter how great or small. In the future, I want to have the knowledge and resources available to address women’s issues and ethical dilemmas. I think it is important to humble yourself and understand the predicaments others are going through.”