Elmhurst gets angrier at city over homeless

Angry protesters rally against a homeless shelter at the Pan American Hotel in Elmhurst. Photo by Bill Parry
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The anger and fear that has gripped Elmhurst since the city turned the Pan American Hotel into a shelter for homeless families was on full display at a hastily convened town hall meeting Monday evening.

Dozens of residents ripped into government agencies while representatives of the city Department of Homeless Services and Samaritan Village, the organization that administers the shelter, listened.

There was room for only 150 people inside an auditorium at the Elks Lodge, at 82-20 Queens Blvd., so several hundred protesters stood outside chanting and banging pots loud enough to be heard inside and at the hotel, just two blocks away.

“It is our intention to work closely with you,” Samaritan Village Executive Vice President and CEO Douglas Apple said. “We are not here to add problems and create issues.”

He admitted that the families were moved in June 6 without proper notification to Community Board 4 and elected officials, but pledged to set up a community advisement board as well as a telephone hotline.

Apple said the number of families in the Pan American Hotel is now 90, triple the number that moved in three weeks ago, and that they are receiving high-quality services with case managers.

“Our role is to help people move from temporary homes to permanent ones as quickly as possible,” he said.

Lorraine Stephens, assistant executive director of DHS, explained that 54,000 homeless, 23,000 of them children, are currently in shelters. “It is a citywide crisis,” she said. “What’s causing it we’re not sure, but we have the right to shelter.”

And according to Lisa Black, the DHS director of government relations, the homeless will continue to be at the Pan American Hotel.

“Until we can create additional capacity elsewhere in the system, we will utilize the building we’re currently in,” she said.

Bill Kregler, the borough president representative for Community Education Council 24, which he called the most overcrowded school district in the city, kicked off the public comments portion of the evening.

“You were misled and lied to by public officials,” he said angrily as the audience applauded. “People lied to this community and I call on [City Councilman] Danny Dromm to call for public hearings and after that we’re going to need some pink slips!”

Kregler stormed out of the meeting to cheers from the protesters outside the hall.

One after another, residents pounded home accusations that male residents of the hotel could be seen wandering through the neighborhoods checking out doors and windows.

“Our crime rate is already going up,” said a member of COMET, the civic association that staged last week’s protest at the hotel that drew more than a thousand people.

“There are not enough hospitals and not enough firehouses,” resident Jenny Shao said addressing the agency representatives. “How can we trust you at your word when you set up a homeless shelter without telling us? You knew you could take advantage of a neighborhood of immigrants.”

Cecelia Ghubis, 72, got a standing ovation when she said, “Now that de Blasio moved into Gracie Mansion, why didn’t he dump the homeless in his house in Brooklyn?”

Robert Valdes-Clausell, of the Newtown Civic Association, and a Land Use Committee member of CB 4, made the most of his allotted time of two minutes.

“The commercial heart of Queens on Queens Boulevard is not the right location to operate or maintain any sort of homeless shelter when far more economical locations already exist to house the homeless in the city’s foreclosed, multi-family building properties,” he said.

Valdes-Clausell added that his association will file a Freedom of Information Law request with DHS.

“We’ll get to the bottom of all the true players behind the scene that most likely had been plotting to profit at taxpayer expense from the conversion of a private hotel to a homeless shelter,” he said.

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

Updated 3:32 pm, July 2, 2014
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Reader feedback

Joe Moretti from Jamaica says:
The issue here is not so much the homeless as it is the continual dumping of places like this in Queens, especially areas like Elmhurst, Corona, Jamaica. These areas have been dumping grounds for places like this and other things for years.

It is time for all boroughs, including Manhattan, to have these types of places spread around as opposed to bombarding mostly communities of color and other ethnic groups because you think they will not say anything.

This time that thinking did not work.

July 2, 2014, 5:33 am
Queens_girl from Elmhurst says:
I take the E train at night and the stations and trains are all filled with stinky bums and homeless people. They are sleeping on the benches, subway cars and sometimes the floor. It is really disgusting when I take a seat on the train in the morning. I feel like I am sitting on some homeless persons bed. Having another homeless shelter near the EF line is really a terrible idea.
July 2, 2014, 10:13 am
deb in JH from jackson heights says:
i certainly feel like the people have a point about being overburdened with such services -- but i'd have a lot more sympathy if they didn't express such hatred, yelling insults at and about the homeless and even making little kids carry insulting signs.
and to Queens_girl, don't you think having a homeless shelter for people to sleep in would stop them from sleeping on the train?
July 2, 2014, 10:56 am
Chris from Elmhurst says:
My main problem is with the way the government handled this. Sneaking homeless in w/o proper public hearing and notification is disrespectful and unfair to the local residents. We pay local tax and we should have a say.

4 shelters in one neighbor is unacceptable, especially one that has such large capacity. There are schools just a block away and I'm concern over the safety of the kids. Just yesterday I saw a bum loitering on Van Loon street, south side of Queens Blvd. I actually smelled him before spotting him. I have lived in the neighborhood for years and it was never like this before PanAm got converted into a shelter.
July 2, 2014, 12:48 pm
Christina from Queens says:
No having a homeless shelter does not stop them from sleeping on the train. They choose to sleep on the train because they are mentally ill.
July 2, 2014, 4:55 pm
Jennifer Chu from Elmhurst says:
District 24 is already the most overcrowded school district in the city. If 200 homeless families are placed in the Pan Am shelter, their kids would have priority to the already limited school seats over local residents. Isn't it unfair that long-time residents who moved here to raise a family, can't even send their own kids to their local schools?

The Pan Am shelter is located in the immediate vicinity of 2 elementary schools, 1 junior high school, and 2 day care centers. At full capacity, the Pan Am building can house more than 200 homeless families. Homeless shelters have a reputation for being dangerous and unsafe. To put such a concentrated number of homeless people next to so many young kids just doesn't make sense.

Elmhurst already has the Mets Motel homeless shelter 2 blocks away from the new Pan Am shelter; the Queens Adult Care Center (former Leben Home), which looks like some sort of shelter for seniors, on 45th Ave on the other side of Queens Blvd; and a state-run mental health facility behind the former St. John's Hospital. Elmhurst already doesn't have enough schools, hospitals, police officers, or firehouses to support its own residents, much less other people in need. Now they want to put another homeless shelter for up to 200 families here, too? Enough is enough.
July 2, 2014, 8:52 pm
WhiteInASeaOf—— from ELmhurst says:
The real question is are they going to use the THREE(!!!!) local shopping malls to help these "under privileged" parasites, most of which are baby factories and able-bodied, jobs?

Any job placement programs or is this just a new hotel for the poor?
July 2, 2014, 10:16 pm
Joe Moretti from Jamaica says:
At least the Asians are standing up for what is right in their community. They do not want another homeless shelter (and especially one as large as this)dumped again in their community, especially the way this sneaking situation was handled.

Certain communities have had to carry this burden, while other do not, so kudos for them for being so organized and coming out in full force. More than would happen in my community of Jamaica.

And as feeling sorry for the other side, as one who has seen many shelters dumped in my community, I have seen what happens in those areas. Noise, loitering, bad behavior, litter and worse when management allows a what-ever attitude with some of these places. Then property values go down more because who wants to live near one of these places.

Sorry, until people learn to behave like civilized people and have respect for their community, then these shelter and the people who occupy them will be shunned. They are problematic and their needs to be major oversight and proper management, otherwise these become just another —— hole place for people to act out.

Why don't the powers to be who want these places so bad, put them in their own back yard. de Blasio, executives of Samaritan Village, etc. instead of dumping them in already overcrowded areas that are somewhat problematic to begin with. Fix the damn system first before dumping —— like this in communities.

So learn manners and respect. And it is not like you wake up one day and are homeless, that is bull. It is a long process that gets you to that point.

July 3, 2014, 9:27 am
Irene from Elmhurst says:
I am a long time resident and property owner in Elmhurst. My parents lived and owned property in the area for over 50 years. My father was both baptized and eulogized at St. Adalberts. To say that I have witnessed the many phases of the neighborhood is an understatement.
Elmhurst is a diverse neighborhood full of many cultures and races. What unites us is the fact that we are an extremely hardworking population emerging from modest means to finally become property owners and take a lot of pride in what we have. For a working class neighborhood we have some great schools working a Herculean task of accommodating English Language Learners, Special Ed populations, among the largest in the city in fact, and OVERCROWDING. We ALREADY have homeless children from the Metro motel and others who are zoned for other schools, attending our overburdened local schools as well, and many of these children have tremendous social needs, that often take a TREMENDOUS toll on our system.

Elmhurst already has empathy for allowing the other shelters to exist in the area, one a mere block away from the Pan Am, but this monstrosity of Pan Am, a 200 room facility with 90 families already present will destroy the infrastructure this up and coming neighborhood has fought so hard to build.

Would the mayor and the Bad Samaritans have been so quick to move in such a clandestine, disrespectful manner in the socially elite neighborhoods of Manhattan or Brooklyn? Did they think that a population made up primarily of immigrant families has less rights to quality of life concerns than others?Queens and Elmhurst in particular, cannot and refuses to be a dumping ground for the social burdens of society. There is only so much empathy Elmhurst can have and we are at capacity.

We must have our voices heard. We will not be silenced. We have just begun the fight. We will not back down until the mayor and the charlatan, underhanded operators the Bad Samaritans find an alternate solution to this issue and close the Pan Am shelter down.
July 3, 2014, 10:07 am
Pan Am Guy from Emhurst says:
We ain't leavin'. Gonna wear pajamas to mcDonald's all day
July 4, 2014, 7:16 am
Pan Am Guy from Emhurst says:
We ain't leavin'. Gonna wear pajamas to mcDonald's all day
July 4, 2014, 7:16 am
Pan Am Guy from Emhurst says:
We ain't leavin'. Gonna wear pajamas to mcDonald's all day
July 4, 2014, 7:16 am
Lisa from Elmhurst says:
To Pan Am Guy - The City is doing you a disservice, too, by crowding families in hotel rooms and disrespecting you by asking the families to enter through the back door.
July 4, 2014, 3:02 pm
LV from Woodside says:
I have empathy for the truly destitute. Not for those who choose not to pay their rent for months, get evicted so they can have proof that they're homeless, and go to a shelter intake center where they'll lie about many things just to get into a shelter and eventually get a housing voucher for their own apartment.
I know that's the plan for many of these families, not pursuing an education or even finding simple jobs, but getting that "free rent" money, food stamps, cash assistance, child care vouchers, etc...
These families need to go to Central New York or some place where the rents are cheaper and where they'll have no pity from others.
Our children don't need to listen to that ghetto low class accent their children will also surely speak. They've all been here for generations, they need to speak more educated. 1st generation children of immigrants like myself speak nicer than the Pan-Am shelter families I heard.
July 4, 2014, 10:51 pm

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