City pushes for long-term deal on JFK shelter

By Courtney Dentch

With time running out on a temporary agreement, the city is pursuing a long-term contract that would allow it to continue housing homeless families in a bankrupt hotel near Kennedy Airport through 2017.

The Department of Homeless Services is still hammering out the details of the agreement with the Salvation Army, which has been operating the facility since it opened as a shelter in July, but the city agency expects to sign the new agreement by the end of September, when the temporary contract expires, said spokesman Jim Anderson. The new contract would be for five years, with two options to renew the contract, for a total of 15 years.

“Our three-month contract ends on Sept. 30, and we hope to have the long-term contract in place by Oct. 1,” he said.

The shelter near Kennedy Airport is one of at least two emergency homeless facilities in Queens that the city has set up in shuttered hotels. The Skyway Motel, near LaGuardia, opened in August. Both shelters were opened over the protests of borough officials and with little warning to the immediate communities.

The city’s plans to move forward include some additions to the shelter, located at the former Best Western Carlton House hotel at 138-10 135th Ave. in South Jamaica, to ease the community’s opposition to the site. Possible additions include a convenience store and laundry facilities within the building, Anderson said.

The additions are geared to helping the shelter’s residents, as well as the community. The residential neighborhood lacks adequate transportation for the families, and many have had to walk about 10 blocks to use a laundromat or buy milk, said City Councilman James Sanders Jr. (D-Laurelton).

Nearby hotels have also been affected by the shelter, including the Radisson Hotel just next door. When the first families began moving into the shelter in July, they would come into the Radisson to use the pay phones, assistant general manager Peter Garcia said earlier this summer. The hotel’s management also feared it would lose business contracts because of the shelter, he said. Garcia could not be reached for an update.

The city has also posted a representative from the Education Department at the shelter to ensure that the children living there attend school. There is increased security and a newly formed advisory board that will allow the community to bring its concerns directly to the shelter operator, the Salvation Army, Anderson said.

“Over the course of the summer and in other forums, we’ve been listening to the questions and issues the community has been raising,” he said. “We are working urgently to address those concerns.”

But some community leaders, like Sanders, said the city’s solutions to both the problems with the shelter and the problem of homelessness in general, is too short-sighted to be effective.

“We have called on the mayor to come up with serious plans to deal with affordable housing,” said Sanders. “We need to think realistically about this thing to come up with a real solution.”

The city entered into an agreement with the Salvation Army earlier this year to open the hotel as a shelter for homeless families under an emergency declaration, saying the number of homeless people exceeded the city’s available bed space, Anderson said. The Salvation Army brokered the deal with the hotel’s owner, the JFK Acquisition Group, and then leased the space to the city, he said.

The 335-room hotel has been operating at full capacity since it opened in July, Anderson said. The shelter is a Tier II facility, which means families can stay in the shelter for a maximum of 27 days while they and the city search for permanent housing.

The community around the shelter has been outspoken in its opposition, citing an overabundance of homeless shelters in the area. Community Board 12, which stretches from downtown Jamaica to the airport, encompasses 12 homeless shelters housing more than 950 families. These include the Saratoga Interfaith Inn, one of the largest Tier II shelters in the city that houses almost 250 families — just two miles away from the Carlton House shelter.

“We feel that our areas have had more than their fair share of shelters,” said a spokeswoman for Sanders.

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by phone at 229-0300, Ext. 138.

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