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Elmhurst shelter draws protests

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Elmhurst residents took to the streets Saturday in an effort to keep the city from taking people off the streets and putting them in their neighborhood.

Some 200 neighbors and civic members gathered outside the three-story brick building at 56-18 58th Ave., where the somewhat mysterious Queens Alliance has opened a 29-room transitional housing center for the city’s homeless.

Gathering with signs in English, Spanish and Chinese, they complained the city did not consult them before granting the company, which has no other shelters in Queens, the contract.

“The decision was rammed down our throats without any input from us,” said Linda Lam, who runs the 58th Avenue and Seabury Block Association, who urged neighbors to write to their elected officials and sign petitions asking for the shelter to be closed.

Roe Daraio, president of Citizens of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together, said her organization would help keep an eye on the shelter.

“There are guidelines they have to follow,” she said. “If things go wrong, we report them.”

The center opened up last month, although officials said it had not received any clients from the city Human Resources Administration yet. Neighbors are outraged because the shelter sits on the same block as a home for the mentally disabled and very close to PS 102.

The neighbors were also angry with City Councilwoman Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills), whose district includes the swath of Elmhurst where the shelter is located. Katz did not attend an informational meeting held last month by Queens Alliance officials and COMET. When a representative from Katz’s office took the microphone at Saturday’s protest to express support for the neighbors, she was loudly booed by the crowd.

“The councilwoman is tired of this ‘as of right,’” said Katz staffer Vicky Morales, who noted the councilwoman was only informed of the community meeting the day it happened and was unable to attend.

Many were angry because Queens Alliance appeared to have only a temporary certificate of occupancy for the building, which they lease from the owners. The building was previously a convent for nuns at St. John’s Hospital, but was sold several years before the hospital went bankrupt and closed its doors earlier this year.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jewalsh@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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