The Maspeth shelter war opened up an eastern front this past weekend.
Protesters working to kill a proposed homeless shelter for adults at the Holiday Inn Express on 55th Road in Maspeth headed out to Bellerose on Saturday morning to join eastern Queens groups in protesting the conversion of at least two hotels on Jericho Turnpike into homeless shelters.
Several hundred people gathered outside the Bellerose Inn at 249-05 Jericho Tpke. for the protest organized by the Queens/Nassau Joint Task Force in association with the Maspeth Middle Village Task Force and the Juniper Park Civic Association. Afterward, they marched to the home of Harshad Patel, who owns both the Bellerose Inn and the Holiday Inn Express in Maspeth, as well as a Quality Inn several blocks from the Bellerose Inn that also houses homeless families.
The demonstrators decried the city’s policy to house homeless persons in hotels, which many protesters referred to as “warehousing.”
“It is unconscionable that they would just throw homeless families in crappy hotel rooms,” said protester Nancy Houlton. “There’s no plan to get them good housing, just throw them in a hotel and pretend everything is okay.”
At the center of the controversy has been the conversion of or usage of rooms in city motels to house homeless persons. The city blames the need on the high homeless population, but the protesters suggested the policy was a scheme for hotel owners to make money by charging the city exorbitant prices for accommodations.
“Rather than find a real solution to this problem, the mayor is just helping out his crony buddies,” one protester suggested.
Patel was a main target of the protest. Outside of Patel’s house on 262nd Street in Glen Oaks, the protesters chanted “No Homeless Shelter,” “De Blasio Must Go” and “Harshad Patel, You Should Be In Jail.”
The opponents thought they had gotten some good news recently when Patel announced that he had decided not to move forward with the plan for the Maspeth shelter, and state Senator Tony Avella announced last week that Patel had decided to phase out the homeless families in the Bellerose hotels.
But Mike LoCascio, one of the leaders of the Maspeth protest and a member of Community Board 5, called Avella a “liar,” and told protests they shouldn’t trust the reports that Patel is backing away from using his hotels as a shelter.
Tony Nunziato, president of the Maspeth Middle Village Task Force and Republican candidate for State Assembly in District 30, which includes Maspeth, said Patel was supposed to meet with the protester on Saturday morning, but failed to show.
“He lied to us again,” Nunziato said.
Joe Concannon, a retired NYPD captain and former City Council candidate who announced he would run again next year, said the homeless families in the shelter deserved more than just hotel rooms.
“We are here today to protest the city policy that is treating the homeless population without dignity and humanity,” he said. “This his happening all over the city. It’s happening in Maspeth. It’s happening in East Elmhurst. It’s happening in Corona. It’s happening in Bellerose.”
“They should be in Creedmoor!” one protest yelled out, referring to the mental health facility.
Concannon rejected that statement, explaining that veterans, the disabled, victims of domestic violence and people who work but cannot afford rent are among the homeless and they shouldn’t be stereotyped as mentally ill or drug-addicted. A fellow protester then clarified that the comment was meant to imply that housing should be built on unused land near Creedmoor, and wasn’t meant as a slight against the homeless.
The protestors, and officials, laid blame for the issue at the feet of Mayor Bill de Blasio. Even state Senator Joe Addabbo, who attended the protest, said the mayor is at fault.
“If the mayor had shown early on a collaborative effort to deal with this problem, we would be happy to help,” he said.
The protest also brought out residents and officials from Nassau County, which lies just across Jericho Turnpike from both shelters. Third Congressional District candidate and state Senator Jack Martins were among those present.
As a result of the protest, the de Blasio administration worked out a deal with the Children’s Museum of Manhattan to bring families living in the Bellerose shelter on a field trip to keep them away from the demonstration.