By Bill Parry
Protesters returned to Elmhurst’s Pan American Hotel Tuesday for a third rally against the city since it converted the 216-unit building into a homeless shelter June 6.
The crowd was half the size of the previous two rallies, with police estimating the number at about 550 people. The protest was less vitriolic than a town hall meeting June 30, when the two sides shouted angry taunts at each other.
Fearing a repeat of that episode, the city Department of Homeless Services arranged for four school buses to take 200 of the homeless children and adults to the movies.
“We’re moving these kids from hate. We have to get them out of here,” DHS spokesman Christopher Miller said.
The families went to see “How to Train Your Dragon 2” in Jamaica.
Some remained inside the shelter. One threw a bottle from a window on the western side of the building and one woman from a fifth floor window shouted, “Speak English … Go back to China and Korea.”
The crowd responded, chanting, “Get a job, get a job.”
City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), a featured speaker at the earlier rallies, decided against appearing Tuesday.
“I am not happy with the racial overtones and I urge the community to temper their language,” he said. “The first thing I said at the first rally was that I wouldn’t tolerate it and they booed me. It happened again at the second protest and so I will not participate any longer.”
Rally organizer Jennifer Chu thinks the racial issue has been overblown.
“People are angry and tempers are short, but everyone has to remember our problem is not with the people in that building, it’s with the city that put them here,” she said.
The majority of the residents in the shelter are black and most of the protesters are Asian. Both sides have resorted to stereotyping each other, according to DHS Commissioner Gilbert Taylor.
Speakers from neighborhood organizations, including Communities of Maspeth & Elmhurst Together, the Elmhurst Neighborhood Block Association, the Chinese Cultural Arts Association and the Filipino Association of Elmhurst — repeatedly blamed Mayor Bill de Blasio and DHS for the situation that is putting a strain on neighborhood schools and services.
One elderly Filipino woman vowed to take the fight against the homeless shelter to City Hall when the mayor returns from Italy.
A COMET press release claimed there was a decline in the neighborhood’s quality of life because of the shelter and that Chinese media was reporting increased incidents of shoplifting, trespassing, panhandling and “dine and dash” incidents at local restaurants.
The commander of the 110th Precinct said crime stats were up slightly, but he did not think the shelter residents were to blame.
“I looked at the numbers myself and they show that in a 2,000-foot radius search around the hotel there has actually been a decrease in crime since June 6,” Deputy Inspector Ronald Leyson said. “That’s a third of a mile in every direction, that’s a fair enough radius. I’m not getting complaints about car break-ins or anything other than minor things in area shops. There are no extra cops assigned because the numbers don’t support that.”
DHS Commissioner Gilbert Taylor was at the Pan American Hotel hours before the protest to help the families board the buses. He commended Dromm for his stance and explained that better communication with members of the community would help to mend fences.
“It’s necessary to have patience — we’re making every effort with the anchors of the community, like churches — so that those in the community know who we are and why we’re here,” Gilbert said. “People, when they come to shelter, it’s because they really have a compelling need and because they really have no other option.”
Taylor believes area residents can co-exist with the 180 families now living in the Boulevard Family Residence if everyone calmed down.
“I live on a block with three shelters and my life has gone on,” he said. “I didn’t even know they were shelters until I became the commissioner.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.