Tag Archives: town hall meeting

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?”

 

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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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MTA town hall to address 7 train shutdowns


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/ Photo by Angy Altamirano

The Long Island City community plans to express its rage at the MTA for the lack of local subway service.

A town hall meeting for locals to decry the last three weekends of No. 7 train suspensions is scheduled for Thursday to go over the details of the service disruption, expected to last for 19 more weekends.

Local elected officials, who asked the MTA to set the meeting up, and MTA NYC Transit President Carmen Bianco are expected to hear feedback from community members.

“I really thought the community should have the same access and same right to get the briefing and be able to ask their own questions,” Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer said. “I want the folks to be able to share with the MTA how they feel about this and why it is so harmful to their business and everyday lives.”

Senator Michael Gianaris said the MTA does not realize Long Island City has become a destination. The community has attempted to be more reasonable with the agency, but without success.

“It’s nice to have a dialogue, but a dialogue without action is not that helpful,” Gianaris said. “I hope this time is different. We’re going to keep their feet to the fire.”

Through July 21, there will be 13 weekend suspensions. Those dates are finalized, the MTA said, but there are also nine tentative weekend shutdowns scheduled for August through November.

The suspensions are expected to be in effect from 11:45 p.m. Friday to 5 a.m. Monday between Times Square-42nd Street and Queensboro Plaza. On some weekends, there will also be reduced or express-only service between 74th Street-Broadway and Queensboro Plaza.

Ideas for transportation alternatives during the weekend disruptions, such as the shuttle bus from Vernon Boulevard through the Queens Midtown Tunnel into the city, will also be brought up.

Sheila Lewandowski, Long Island City resident and owner of The Chocolate Factory Theater, believes such a meeting should be done before the disruptions began. However, she hopes the MTA will take what is said at the meeting and put it to good use.

“I think it’s important that the MTA remembers that it’s a public service and that they need to hear from their customers. I don’t feel like we get much opportunities for that to happen,” Lewandowski said. “What I want is for them to be more accessible to the very people that use the system because I feel like that’s what’s going to drive better service and change.”

The town hall meeting is open to the public and will begin at 6:30 p.m. at P.S./I.S. 78 at 46-08 Fifth St.

 

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