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Shelter Flip- Flop

DHS Changes Mind On Elmhurst Hotel

Reversing course on statements made at last month’s public hearing on the proposed Glendale homeless shelter, the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) is now sheltering destitute families at the former Pan American Hotel in Elmhurst, the Times Newsweekly learned Tuesday, June 10.

According to the Communities of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together (COMET) civic association, the DHS placed 36 homeless families at the former inn located at 79-00 Queens Blvd. last Friday, June 6.

A DHS spokesperson confirmed this information in an email to the Times Newsweekly on Wednesday afternoon, June 11, claiming the Pan Am-which initially closed earlier this year and was said to be converted into a hostel for travelers-is being used “in the short term … to provide essential shelter and supportive services to families with children.”

The development came more than two weeks after Community Board 5’s May 22 public hearing on the proposed homeless shelter at 78-16 Cooper Ave. in Glendale. During the session, DHS Assistant Commissioner Lisa Black stated the agency dismissed the former Pan American Hotel as a suitable shelter site, as it lacked “kitchens and bathrooms.” Her statement was met with jeers from skeptical attendees.

Sources familiar with the situation stated the DHS, recognizing a growing need for homeless housing, changed course on the Pan American Hotel following the May 22 hearing. Each of the units have private bathrooms, and the agency is providing families with three daily meals until it can find alternate shelter for them.

“The City of New York remains committed to offering homeless families the compassion and dignity they deserve in their moment of need,” the DHS spokesperson told this paper Wednesday. “As the number of families with children residing in temporary, emergency shelter grows, we must consider all avaliable options to address our capacity needs and meet our legallymandated right to shelter.”

COMET claimed on its website Tuesday that Samaritan Village-the nonprofit agency behind the Glendale homeless shelter proposal- submitted a proposal to DHS to transform the Pan American Hotel into a shelter for up to 200 families. The DHS spokesperson made no mention that the agency received such an application.

While the DHS claimed it notified “all elected officials” about housing homeless families at the Pan American Hotel, City Council Member Daniel Dromm claimed he received no advanced notification of the DHS’ plans.

“Elmhurst has already had to bear a huge burden of services for the less fortunate. One block away is the Metro Motel, another homeless shelter,” Dromm said in a statement posted on COMET’s website. “I am upset that I was only informed that 36 homeless families would be given shelter at the Pan Am Hotel as it was actually happening at around 4:45 p.m. last Friday night.”

“The hotel has 216 rooms. I believe it is bad policy to bring that many needy people into one place,” he continued. “While I recognize and support the need to house our homeless, I believe that this number is way too large. While DHS has promised my office added security and additional social services at the site, I still believe Elmhurst is overburdened.”

COMET plans to hold a rally against the shelter outside the former Pan American Hotel at 6 p.m. Tuesday night, June 17, rain or shine. Rosemarie Daraio, COMET’s president, encouraged all to attend.

Meanwhile, Samaritan Village’s Glendale homeless shelter proposal-which would convert the former factory on the Cooper Avenue site into a transitional housing facility for up to 125 families-remains active. An environmental study is ongoing to determine if the location is contaminated, one of many concerns voiced by the proposal’s opponents.

Responding to a DHS request, Board 5 Chairperson Vincent Arcuri and District Manager Gary Giordano sent to Black last Friday a list of 15 concerns, issues and questions raised by residents during the May 22 hearing.

“Thirty-three individuals, including elected officials, spoke at this important public hearing. Virtually every speaker raised serious concerns and questions related to this proposal,” Arcuri and Giordano wrote. After summarizing the points of contention, they concluded that it is “the unanimous position” of Board 5, local residents and elected officials, “that this site should be rejected for use as a transitional residence for homeless families.”

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