Elected officials and community activists continued their fight Monday and Tuesday over the opening of a new homeless shelter in Queens.
Activists took the battle over the facility — set to open later this spring in a former Fairfield Inn hotel at 52-34 Van Dam Street in Blissville, Queens — to the mayor’s doorstep at Gracie Mansion and City Hall in Manhattan. The shelter — which will house 154 homeless adult families — will be the neighborhood’s third, bringing the homeless population to 550 in a neighborhood with only 450 permanent residents, according to the Queens Times Ledger.
“This third shelter brings a homeless population to more than our own,” Blissville resident Jephenie Ramos told Inman. “It threatens to turn Blissville into a homeless village.”
Blissville residents fear the hotel facility won’t be suitable for some of New York City’s most vulnerable residents.
“This hotel has no kitchen, no laundry machines and a cafeteria that seats only 30,” Maria Davis, vice president of the newly formed Blissville Civic Association, said in a release. “How will someone elderly or with physical challenges carry her laundry bag the half-mile to the laundromat? Where will people eat the three meals a day they’ll ladle out? I don’t care how much lipstick you put on it — it’s still a hotel. Homeless people need homes, not hotels.”
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney joined alongside residents opposing the shelter, who gathered on Monday at Gracie Mansion and Tuesday at City Hall.
“While every community must do its fair share to address the homelessness crisis, Blissville, a small community of only 475 permanent residents in Long Island City, already has two homeless shelters,” Maloney said. “Putting a third shelter in Blissville, which lacks critical services, including mass transit, parks, schools, laundromats, grocery stores, urgent care facilities and hospitals, fails to meet the needs of this vulnerable population.”
Maloney, along with Congressmen Joseph Crowley, State Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan and State Senator Michael Gianaris, signed a letter drafted by Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer addressed to Mayor Bill de Blasio calling on the city to rescind the plans and find a more suitable location.
New York City is attempting a full overhaul of how it handles its homeless problem, which has ballooned in recent years. In March 2018, there were 62,974 homeless people, the highest number since the great depression, according to the nonprofit Coalition For the Homeless.
Under the de Blasio administration, the New York City Department of Homeless Services (DHS) has attempted to end the housing of homeless individuals in hotels and temporary apartments or “cluster sites.” A spokesperson for DHS told Inman that this site will allow for the phasing out of other cluster sites, which reached its high point in January 2016.
“The city and not-for-profit social service provider partner Home/Life are opening this facility as soon as possible to give adult families from Queens the opportunity to be closer to the communities they called home as they get back on their feet,” a spokesperson for DHS said. “We are ensuring the building is ready for occupancy, finalizing all required reviews and expect to open this facility this spring after all has been completed.”
The new shelter is part of the de Blasio administration’s “Turning the Tide” program, which aims to build transition sites like the one in Blissville in an effort to actually reduce the number of homeless individuals being sheltered in the community. The city reduced its shelter footprint by 16 percent in 2017 under the program, to 547 buildings.
As part of the plan, the city hopes to reduce the number of sites currently being used to house the homeless in Community District 2 to two, as opposed to the five currently operating.
DHS also said the site will offer a full range of services through its partner Home/Life. Those services include on-site administration, case management, housing placement assistance, health/mental health services, screening/assessment/interventions for substance use disorders, yoga and nutrition classes and employment counseling.
For individuals worried about security, DHS said the new facility will have around-the-clock, on-site security as well as 95 new security cameras.
An additional protest is set for noon today at City Hall, following DHS Commissioner Steven Bank’s appearance before the City Council.