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DHS vows to notify nabes on new shelters

Youth groups and shelter residents from the Pan American Hotel do the Electric Slide at a BBQ Saturday. Photo by Bill Parry
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Scott Stringer had heard enough.

After six weeks of angry phone calls from elected officials from Queens, the city comptroller fired off a letter to Gilbert Taylor, the Department of Homeless Services commissioner, telling the agency to change its ways.

“Time and time again, I have seen communities that were traditionally welcoming of shelter facilities and supportive housing react negatively to a rushed DHS placement due to a failure to consider either legitimate potential neighborhood impacts or the health of the families the residences are intended to support,” the comptroller wrote July 17.

Stringer took action after thousands protested in Elmhurst after 180 homeless families were settled into the Pan American Hotel, at 79-99 Queens Blvd. in June, with no prior notice to the community.

On July 6, DHS moved 121 more homeless families into the Westway Motel at 71-11 Astoria Blvd. in East Elmhurst. But again the agency gave no prior notice to the community, saying it was an emergency measure during a crisis in which the city is facing a record census of homeless families.

More than 350 area residents blasted the agency during a heated town hall meeting at the Museum of the Moving Image July 16. Several arguments broke out and several people were escorted from the museum’s auditorium.

Rose Marie Poveromo, president of the United Community Civic Association, which organized the meeting, said, “It was a deliberate, furtive and covert operation reeking of disrespect for our elected officials, community leaders and the community at large. We were advised after the fact and consider the action of the DHS an abuse of power.”

The community was further outraged because they had stopped DHS from turning the Westway Motel into a permanent shelter back in 2012. Instead, the agency was allowed to use the facility for emergency overnight stays.

“This is a compassionate community, but we have a large problem with the mayoral directive that put a shelter here,” City Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria) said. “I’m in unison with our elected officials that feel the emergency declaration was used to bypass the elected officials and the community board in the process.”

State Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria) agreed, saying, “Of course, the town hall meeting was heated because we feel we’ve been shut out of the process.”

The DHS responded with a terse statement that read: “It is regrettable that in the midst of an increase in the number of homeless families entering shelters, our partners in government choose to distort the facts and plan protests in front of men, women and children with nowhere else to turn.”

But after the letter from Stringer, Taylor released a memo to elected officials and community leaders promising a seven-day notification process before using a potential shelter site in the future.

Simotas was not impressed.

“Seven days’ notice to open up any kind of shelter that would affect the community is woefully inadequate, in my opinion,” she said.

Meanwhile, in Elmhurst, two churches and several youth groups tried to show a better side of the community after the DHS bused families to the movies so the children would not have to witness a third rally against the shelter at the Pan American Hotel July 22.

The Reformed Church of Newtown hosted a barbecue for the residents of the shelter in the parking lot of New Life Church. More than 200 Pan Am residents attended with their children enjoying face-painting, animal balloon-making and water balloon tossing.

Julian Delarosa, 16, a member of Newtown’s English Congregation said, “There’s been so much negativity surrounding them we just wanted to show them some love and welcome them to the neighborho­od.”

After everyone joined together to dance the “Electric Slide,” DHS official Terri Rhabb said, “They’re enjoying themselves --- it’s an act of kindness that doesn’t come their way often these days.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

Updated 9:09 am, July 31, 2014
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Reader feedback

we do not want them from queens says:
Notification is not enough. We do not want homeless in our communities. We vote. We should count. Many homeless have the resources to have their own apartments but squander the money because of mental illness or drug abuse. This is what needs to be addressed. Filling up hot sheet motels with homeless is not the answer.
July 31, 2014, 10:46 am
Fuzzy Dunlop from the corner says:
It's pretty disgusting to see Stringer take the side of a bunch of yelling "nimbyers" who subjected children to some pretty ghastly stuff. I expected better of him.

What a grandstanding syphilitic bucket of crap.

I guess it isn't that surprising seeing as homeless people don't vote or contribute cash to political campaigns.
July 31, 2014, 10:42 pm
Gloria from Queens says:
Fuzzy. Check yourself. If anyone is grandstanding its DeBlasio and his administration who clearly is being run by a bunch of nitwits who think they can pull the wool over neighborhoods' eyes.
Aug. 1, 2014, 4:59 am
Robin from Queens says:
U don't know what is going on with them, they might not be able to pay the rent out here in New York City. To make derivative comments about people is wrong . But people have to go some were, who said they were under class u don't know there story so don't cast no stones. It's. Very hard out here when it comes to rent and trying to fine housing for Family's so open up ur hearts help. U'll be Blessed
Thank u. Someone that is in the same place and need help to me.
Aug. 12, 2014, 12:07 pm

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