A spokesman from the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) confirmed that the Best Western at 38-05 Hunters Point Avenue in Long Island City will be used to shelter homeless New Yorkers.
DHS has reserved 64 units in the hotel to house families with children, but will gradually increase its use to all 82 rooms. The families first moved in on September 26.
Elected officials representing the area did not take the news kindly. In a September 29th letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio, Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan said she was “outraged and disappointed” by the move.
“I do not feel that our community was given adequate notice, nor time, to prepare for this development,” she said. “My office received no information as to which company will be managing the shelter, nor for how long the shelter will be operating.
“As has been reiterated by myself and colleagues many times, the use of hotels as shelters is inappropriate,” Nolan added. “Hotel rooms cannot serve as functional living spaces, do not provide adequate space or services for families with children, are frequently located far from basic amenities and mass transit, and are unsuitable for long-term use.”
The assemblywoman noted that while no one wants to see children homeless, the administration’s approach makes it “impossible for a community to accept a shelter.”
“They become a source of resentment for the communities in which they are placed, not least from the loss of service industry jobs and a decrease in tourism-related commerce as a result of the hotel’s closure,” she said. “There is also the possibly negative impact on the residential areas in which they are located.
“Due to the lack of transparency and input that the community is afforded during this process, opposition builds,” she added.
According to DHS spokesman Isaac McGinn, elected officials and Community Board 2 were first notified on September 25 and 26, just a day before families moved in.
Nolan called on the mayor to remove the shelter and demanded a meeting with DHS. She added that other shelters on Borden Avenue, the City View Inn on Greenpoint Avenue, and the Verve in Dutch Kills are all located in her district.
Congressman Joseph Crowley also urged city officials to abandon the strategy of converting hotels into shelters. In his own letter to the mayor, Crowley requested a “full accounting of plans” for the new shelter on Hunters Point Avenue, including who the service provider is and where the community should turn for safety concerns.
“Once again, the city has decided to blindside our community by converting yet another hotel into a homeless shelter without issuing prior notice or seeking community input, even after assurances were made that they would work to prevent that from happening again,” Crowley said. “While I remain deeply concerned about the homelessness crisis in New York City, it is beyond troubling that the administration has insisted on the shortsighted, costly approach of converting hotels into shelters despite public plans to phase them out.”
In February, the mayor unveiled a new strategy to build or expand 90 traditional shelters across the city. The initiative involves getting out of 260 cluster sites and commercial hotels by 2021 and 2023, respectively.
The goal of the plan is to reduce the homeless shelter population by 2,500 people over five years. The homeless population has ballooned to more than 60,000 people.
City officials also pledged to inform a community 30 days prior to opening a new shelter and create a community advisory board to help manage sites.
Last month, Crowley noted, DHS Commissioner Steven Banks announced the closing of five hotel shelters in Queens. But since that announcement in Jackson Heights, Crowley said 12 hotels across the city have been converted to shelters.
“The use of hotels for sheltering saddles taxpayers with the exorbitant cost of putting homeless families and individuals up in sub-par housing,” Crowley wrote. “These funds should instead be put toward a long-term solution that will provide homeless individuals and families with stability.”
He also asked for a meeting with Banks to discuss “their apparent indifference to the promises of community engagement.”
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer also chimed in, calling the city’s lack of notification “absurd.”
“The idea that you would tell a community literally hours before you start moving families into a former commercial hotel is absurd,” Van Bramer said. “While we can never demonize the homeless, many of which are children, I share in my community’s frustration of the process by which this decision was made.”
McGinn acknowledged that commercial hotels are not effective sites to house the homeless, but insisted that this location, along with other hotels, will be phased out by 2023 as part of the mayor’s plan.
He said within the boundaries of Community Board 2, the city is using three commercial hotels to provide shelter for nearly 250 households. However, until the administration is able to implement its plan to phase out shelters, the city will in some cases put homeless families in hotels during emergency situations.
The DHS rep also asked communities to identify viable sites that nonprofit providers can possibly use as a homeless shelter. Community Board 6 in Brooklyn, for example, has already discussed two possible sites with DHS.
“As we implement our plan to finally end the use of decades-old stop-gap measures, we have been crystal clear, we are closing clusters first and will follow closely with comprehensive phase-out of all commercial hotel facilities,” McGinn said in a statement. “In the interim, while we are ending use of clusters as first priority and increasing high-quality shelter capacity citywide, we are using commercial hotels as a bridge to provide emergency shelter to homeless New Yorkers.”