As the number of sheltered city homeless families has dropped to 35,000 from a high of 38,000 in 2003, spaces have opened up in South Ozone Park's Carlton House - the largest family shelter in the city - Jamaica's Saratoga Interfaith Family Inn and the Springfield Gardens Family Inn, DHS Assistant Commissioner of Government and Community Affairs Robert Mascali said during the meeting at Borough Hall in Kew Gardens. The 338-bed Carlton House, a former Best Western converted into shelter at the peak of a homeless housing crunch in 2002, is now 100 families below capacity with 226 beds filled, Mascali said. Saratoga has 39 empty rooms with 216 families in its 255-unit facility. And Springfield Gardens is at half capacity with just 46 of its 82 rooms filled. "We're seeing fewer people coming in, more people moving out," Mascali said. "So we're seeing a drop."Homeless services officials credit the turnaround to a department overhaul of its rental assistance program in October after the city ran out of Section 8 vouchers, the federal rent subsidy it relied on for decades to fight homelessness. Its Housing Stability Plus program, which provides rent grants for up to five years that shrink by 20 percent each year, offers families quicker and more streamlined assistance, DHS spokesman Jim Anderson said. The DHS estimates that 80 to 90 families are signing up for the program each week. "The idea is to move these people, to move these families and individuals out as quickly as possible so they don't linger in the shelter system," Anderson said. "There is a big push for providers to move people out as fast as they can to them into housing."Queens Borough President Helen Marshall praised the trend and said it showed a need for more affordable housing and fewer shelters in the borough. That is why she was against a homeless services provider's plans to expand the Saratoga Inn. For two years, the property's owner, Homes for the Homeless, discussed building a 153-room expansion next door to the property at 175-15 Rockaway Blvd. "That building should really be apartments," Marshall said. Mascali said another shelter would be useless."We don't need it. We don't need it in the city We don't need it in Queens," he said. Homes for Homeless, which has not submitted a proposal with Department of Homeless Services to run another shelter, did not return a call for comment. Reach reporter Matthew Monks by e-mail at news@timesledger or phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.
©2005 Community News Group
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