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Editorial: Gimme shelter

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It is easy to understand why residents of southeast Queens living near a newly opened homeless shelter are outraged. Although almost everyone wants the city to do more for the homeless, especially homeless families, no one wants the city to do more in their backyard.

Some 60 homeless families have moved into the former 335-unit Best Western Carlton House hotel near Kennedy Airport. The facility, now the largest homeless shelter in the city, was opened over the community’s strong objections. Residents living near the motel say their community already is host to a number of homeless shelters. They are particularly angry that they were not given an opportunity for public comment before the Department of Homeless Services opened the shelter.

Community Board 12 Chairman James Davis has questioned what impact the families will have on already overcrowded public schools.

We hope that the Department for Homeless Services will be able to address the concerns of the community. But we also hope that the community will see that this shelter is badly needed and that the Carlton House is ideally suited for serving homeless families.

The city is on the brink of a fiscal crisis. At the same time, the city is mandated by the courts to provide shelter on demand for every homeless family. It is entirely possible that the same politicians who are protesting the opening of the shelter near Kennedy Airport would have been the first to criticize the mayor for not doing enough to help homeless families. Under the circumstances, taking over the Carlton House was a fiscally sound and morally responsible decision.

The neighbors and local politicians should take some comfort from the knowledge that this shelter will be run by the Salvation Army. This organization has an outstanding track record. They take pride in working with the community to make certain that the shelters that they run do not have a negative impact on quality of life.

Furthermore, shelters that serve homeless families are substantially different from the shelters that serve homeless adults. The population is much less likely to be dealing with drugs, alcohol and mental illness.

Even the most ardent foes of the new shelter will be hard-pressed to find a suitable alternative site. The city cannot ignore the homeless families. Perhaps the time has come for the community to turn about and make a determination to work with the Salvation Army to help these families get on their feet and into permanent housing.

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