Pan Am homeless spark loud protests

By Bill Parry

More than a thousand protesters rallied in front of the Pan American Hotel Tuesday, calling on the city to reconsider housing homeless families in their community.

The city Department of Homeless Services moved 21 families into the shelter run by Samaritan Village June 6 without giving proper notice, according to City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights).

At the start of the rally Tuesday, Dromm said the number of families had risen to 41, including several dozen children.

“We already have our fair share of shelters,” Dromm said. “Metro Motel is just two blocks away and it has not been run in exemplary fashion.”

He warned that the situation would strain the resources of the community, especially the already over-crowded schools, while putting pressure on Elmhurst Hospital Center, one of the busiest in the city.

Dromm said the authorities had been less than forthcoming.

“The Department of Homeless Services said this hotel was not under consideration — we feel we were lied to,” he said. “They’re telling us that there will be no single men here, just families, and that there will be no more shelters, but they’ve lied to us before.”

“Samaritan Village is committed to working with the local elected officials and the community to ensure we are a good neighbor,” was the only statement issued by Samaritan Village.

There were so many protesters that the NYPD had to close off the service road to Queens Boulevard for more than an hour during the evening rush hour.

Roe Daraio, president of the Comet Civic Association, organized the rally and was not surprised by the turnout.

“I was actually hoping for an even bigger crowd, but then I always shoot for the moon,” she said.

A member of COMET, which stands for Communities of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together, named Linda said, “These people are coming from Middle Village, Rego Park, Corona, Ridgewood, even Glendale is here.”

Retired NYPD Capt. Joe Concannon made the trip from Whitestone to make his voice heard.

“I used to patrol these streets for six years and what you have here is the city of New York taking a problem and making it worse,” he said.

Concannon, who was a Reform Party candidate for Council against Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) last fall, said, “This hotel should be a profit-maker. Instead the city has made it into a dumping ground.”

DHS spokesman Chris Miller said, “The city of New York remains committed to offering homeless families the compassion and dignity they deserve in their moment of need. As the number of families with children residing in temporary, emergency shelter grows, we must consider all available options to address our capacity needs and meet our legally mandated right to shelter.”

Moving the homeless families into the Pan American Hotel became possible when Mayor Bill de Blasio and city Comptroller Scott Stinger signed off on an emergency decree.

“We have a homeless crisis in the city,” a Stringer spokesman said. “Comptroller Stringer approved an emergency declaration for family shelters across the city so that DHS can house homeless families. The comptroller has not weighed in on the appropriateness of any specific location, but he believes that communication and adequate community notification are critical parts of this process.”

Dromm said he was notified by DHS as he was leaving his office June 6 and received a fax from Samaritan Village later that evening after families had begun moving into the Pan American Hotel.

He added that he will work with COMET to convene a town hall to keep the pressure on City Hall.

Watching the scene unfold were a group of former longtime employees of the Pan American Hotel who were laid off Jan. 7, prior to the building’s sale.

“This is heartbreaking to see,” Middle Village resident Melinda Cardoza said. “My husband Raymond worked here for 42 years when it was family-run.”

Her daughter Deborah said, “I worked here for 20 years, it was the last union hotel in Queens. They told us it was going to be a hostel and the union was going to get our jobs back, but suddenly they moved in these homeless families. So much for getting our jobs back.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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