Although the city says it has halted plans to transform a Maspeth hotel into a homeless shelter, even the partial use of the facility for homeless people has made local residents and lawmakers irate.
“Wow, the mayor still doesn’t get it,” said state Senator Joseph Addabbo in reaction to news that the city Department of Homeless Services moved 30 homeless men into the Holiday Inn Express located on 55th Road off the Long Island Expressway this weekend. The move came even as the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) announced it had scrapped its pursuit of a permanent homeless shelter for adults at the location.
A statement from DHS spokesperson Lauren Gray to Gothamist on Monday indicated that ongoing community opposition plan spurred the de Blasio administration to abandon the proposal.
“The Maspeth Holiday Inn will continue to provide temporary housing for working adults,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement to QNS. “This is a citywide problem and we need a citywide solution. We didn’t back down on sheltering homeless New Yorkers in Maspeth and we won’t in other communities. We have a citywide moral and legal responsibility to shelter homeless New Yorkers.”
Addabbo joined a number of residents outside the Holiday Inn Express on Monday for yet another protest against the shelter and the city’s policy of setting up homeless shelters in hotels citywide. Maspeth residents have been holding nightly protests at the location dating back to early August, when the shelter proposal first surfaced.
“Bill de Blasio thinks that telling the Maspeth community their protests were successful enough to alter his plans … would resolve the foreseeable, growing homeless issue and pacify the residents,” Addabbo said. “Does he still not understand that housing any individual in a room without a kitchen … is not an appropriate way of truly assisting a human being in need of help?”
Local residents and civic leaders at Monday night’s protest seem to think that the mayor wasn’t fooling anyone.
“The mayor is trying to tell us that we won. They’re putting out press releases everywhere … ‘Maspeth won, we’re not putting it in because Maspeth’s protesting,’” said Robert Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association (JPCA) in a video captured during a rally outside of the Holiday Inn Express on Monday night and posted to Facebook. “Really? And then you put in 30, and then next week you put in another 30? And then we think, we go home and we think we won. Well, Maspeth’s not that dumb.”
Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, in a statement she sent to QNS on Tuesday, accused the de Blasio administration of “talking out of both sides of its mouth.”
“From day one, the proposal for this Maspeth Holiday Inn was anything but clear,” Crowley said. “The hotel owner (Harshad Patel) publicly expressed he never had a plan to convert his hotel, because he did not want to lose Holiday Inn franchise rights. So what we see here is the administration grappling at whatever it can, even when hotels are an inadequate and illegal option for housing.”
One of the two candidates for the 30th Assembly District seat representing Maspeth, Brian Barnwell, said he witnessed “up to 20 homeless men” arriving at the hotel in a white transport van. The move itself came with no community notification on a holiday weekend.
“Residents are right to be skeptical,” Barnwell said in an email to QNS. “This deal was supposedly dead a month ago, and now they have changed the whole scope of the plan. This whole time, de Blasio and Patel lied to us.”
Steven Banks, the city’s human resources commissioner, said in a statement that Patel “refused to allow the city to convert the hotel into a shelter, but did agree to rent rooms “to help keep homeless New Yorkers off the street.”
“Our first priority remains the safety and well-being of those DHS serves,” Banks said. “We will continue to implement the plan to have shelters in every borough so that New Yorkers seeking shelter can stay in their borough, near schools, jobs, family and their community.”
Anthony Giudice contributed to this report.