Members of the Maspeth-Middle Village Task Force had been gathering outside the Holiday Inn Express located on 55th Road every evening since mid-August to protest the proposed conversion of the hotel into a shelter for homeless adults. While the city announced in October that it was backing off on the proposal, it did rent rooms at the hotel to house 30 homeless men; the task force now says as many as 100 men live at the hotel, some in rooms with two sets of bunk beds.
However, according to a Department of Homeless Services source, 78 homeless individuals are being housed in 39 rooms at the Holiday Inn Express. Each of these rooms has two beds.
Nevertheless, the nightly vigil by protesters continued through Friday night, Dec. 2, when those gathered voted unanimously to end the evening protests. Instead, the task force will begin protesting outside the homes of Harshad Patel, the hotel’s owner, and his business partners beginning this weekend.
According to Robert Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association and a task force member, the change in tactics comes as Patel and New Ram Realty, the holding company that operates the hotel, find themselves being sued by the owner of the property where the hotel stands. The lawsuit alleges that Patel and New Ram, in agreeing to rent rooms to the city for homeless men, violated the terms of the initial lease, which mandates that the property be used only for hotel or retail purposes.
Holden also acknowledged that the protesters realized their nightly vigil was responsible in part for “keeping paying customers away from the hotel, which in turn freed up more rooms for DHS (the Department of Homeless Services) to rent.”
“By bringing the protests to the doorsteps of Harshad Patel and his cronies, we will let them know that we are not backing down until they end their relationship with the city and Acacia Network at the Maspeth Holiday Inn Express,” Holden said in a statement.
The first such protest is scheduled to take place this Sunday, Dec. 11, at noon, outside Patel’s Bellerose home. The task force and other homeless shelter opponents rallied outside Patel’s home back in September. It also rallied twice outside the Brooklyn home of Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks; the most recent rally occurred on Saturday, Dec. 3.
When contacted by QNS, the Department of Homeless Services issued a statement acknowledging that while it considers hotels as “not a suitable long-term solution,” they serve as “the only immediate alternative to the street” for many homeless New Yorkers.
“We’ve moved nearly 50,000 people from shelter to housing and prevented tens of thousands more from losing their homes,” according to the DHS statement. “To address a problem that has built up over many years we are building 200,000 units of affordable housing and developing a fair, comprehensive shelter plan to meet this citywide problem.”