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Photos by Angela Matua/QNS
Photos by Angela Matua/QNS
Blissville residents attended a meeting last week to voice their concerns about a new homeless shelter opening in the area.

Residents of Blissville, a small sub-section of Long Island City, gathered in a room at St. Raphael’s Church on Thursday to express their outrage at the city’s plan to use yet another hotel in the area to provide shelter to homeless families.

Representatives from the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) attended the meeting to outline the agency’s plan for the Fairfield Inn, which will become one of several “high-quality shelters” the city plans to open as part of the mayor’s Turning the Tide plan.

A small neighborhood sandwiched between Newtown Creek and the Calvary Cemetery, Blissville has a population of less than 500. With the addition of this new shelter, the number of homeless people will outnumber residents.

The City View Inn, located at 33-17 Greenpoint Ave., began admitting homeless families last July and the city recently moved the families out to begin housing 100 homeless men in the hotel, with no notification to community residents. At the meeting, Joslyn Carter, administrator of DHS, admitted the agency was “wrong” about how it handled the transfer.

The nearby Best Western Hotel at 38-05 Hunters Point Ave. also houses about 150 homeless families.

According to DHS, The Fairfield Inn will provide housing for 154 adult families or a little over 300 people. Some families are adult couples while others are single parents with children who are 19 and older, said Jackie Bray, the deputy commissioner of the Department of Homeless Services.

Home/Life will be the nonprofit service provider at this specific location and services will include administration, case management, housing placement assistance, job placement and health/mental health services, though not all the services will be provided on site.

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who attended the meeting, slammed Mayor Bill de Blasio and DHS Commissioner Steve Banks for what he called a “desperation attempt” to solve the homeless crisis in the city. 

“I have lots of compassion and empathy for those who are homeless in our community as I believe so do you,” he told the crowd. “Homeless individuals in our city deserve shelter and they deserve services. With this shelter, our district will house more than four times the number of homeless individuals we produce. When will it end?”

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In his plan, the mayor said he was taking a borough-based approach to homelessness and that every community would have to do their fair share. He also announced that commercial hotels would be phased out of use as shelters by 2022. According to Bray, there are currently about 9,000 people from Queens in the shelter system.

“What happens in 2021?” Van Bramer asked. “The mayor leaves office. So, who is accountable if 2022 comes around and all of you look at those hotels and they’re still being used as shelters?”

Residents outlined a number of concerns including security and the lack of services that the mostly industrial community could provide for homeless families looking to find jobs and housing.

Ronald Komito, who has owned Penske Truck Rental in the area for more than 40 years, said that since the Citi View Inn began housing homeless men, he has smelled pot in his trucks.

“What are you going to do to protect us from the people coming out of these shelters smoking drugs, drinking and carrying on?” he said.

Bray said there will be 10 guards and one supervisor on the site 24/7, 365 days of the year and that they will work with the precinct to “make sure that behavior ends” if they are determined to be shelter clients. There will also be 95 cameras installed inside and outside of the facility.

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“If the precinct determines that there is behavior by any of our clients, we can transfer those clients,” she said. “We have ways to make sure that behavior ends. There is a legal right to shelter in this city. There is no legal right to that [specific] shelter.”

Bantry Bay Publick House at 33-01 Greenpoint Ave., is located three doors away from the City View Inn, three blocks from the Fairfield Inn and about an 8-minute walk from the Best Western. Erika Clooney, the co-owner of the restaurant, said the shelters will hurt business.

“My business at night, we really rely on a lot of tourism,” she said. “You’ve taken now two of the hotels away from me and now the third. You said that you guys do not come in and take over a community. How is placing 300 new people into our community when we only have 450 not a takeover?”

Clooney also said she inspected the Fairfield Inn and did not see adequate dining space, laundromat facilities and minimal room for services.

“We need to help homeless people. We need to help them get back on their feet,” she said. “There’s two computers in that lobby. Where are they going to look for jobs?”

Bray said the service provider will bring meals into the shelter and will retrofit the hotel to add additional laundry equipment and offices as needed. Other services like mental health and drug counseling will be provided off-site and Home/Life will provide a driver to transport clients to appointments.

“We have very strict regulations about how much square footage is required to operate high-quality safe shelter,” she said. “The site meets those regulations.”

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David Martin, whose family has lived in Blissville for more than 100 years, said the DHS representatives were not providing adequate answers to their questions.

“What were talking about here is not Community Board 2,” he said. “We’re talking about Blissville this is four, five, six square blocks for 475 people. The infrastructure in our neighborhood cannot survive this and it’s not right for the homeless people as well. So it’s actually not ‘not in my backyard.’ This is our backyard, our front yard, our driveway and our living room.” 

Brent O’Leary, who lives on Hunters Point Avenue and whose father grew up on 40th Street in Blissville, said the community is caring and wants to help the homeless problem but that “It’s a citywide problem, not a Blissville problem.”

“When the first shelter came everybody didn’t have a problem,” he said. “I know of a local business here who gave kids free things to eat to help them get [acclimated] to the school. We were very upset when they got dragged out in the middle of the night and pushed out like they were strangers. [But] it’s not helping the homeless by putting them here; it’s really hiding the homeless and that’s not what we’re about.”

The shelter at the Fairfield Inn is scheduled to open in late winter and according to DHS, the average length of stay for adult families in shelter is approximately a year and a half.

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Gina Santonas March 19, 2018 / 04:13PM
Good coverage. The bar is called Bantry Bay though not Gantry.
Reply

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