State Of The Shelter Battle
For more than a year now, western Queens residents have fought the city tooth and nail in trying to stop proposed homeless shelters in Glendale and Elmhurst. So far, it’s been an uphill battle that doesn’t figure to end anytime soon.
A civic coalition is raising money to pursue legal measures to stop the proposed Glendale shelter at a defunct factory on Cooper Avenue, and Elmhurst residents are pleading with the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) and City Comptroller Scott Stringer not to sign off on a contract making permanent the emergency shelter at the former Pan American Hotel.
Even as these residents fight a tag team war against City Hall, other communities managed to convince the de Blasio administration to halt shelters from opening near them. Last month, the nonprofit Metro Safe Housing withdrew plans for a transitional housing shelter in the Van Nest section of the Bronx amid protests from local residents.
To our south, the city also withdrew plans for a Far Rockaway shelter that would have housed more than 100 homeless men. The turnabout came with the help of local elected officials and civic groups.
So when does the city decide to pull the plug on its inhumane and misguided homeless shelter plans for Glendale and Elmhurst? The outcry is overwhelming, but the city has turned a deaf ear to it all. The few bureaucrats who have acknowledged the opposition publicly tried to brand them as biased or insensitive, rather than offer a legitimate defense of their reckless policies.
Homelessness is up 13 percent so far in 2014, even as this nation is in an apparent economic recovery. Since taking control at City Hall on Jan. 1 of this year, the de Blasio administration has opened 23 new shelters to address the burgeoning need. Often these shelters opened in near complete secrecy, with little advanced notice provided to community boards or elected officials.
Prior to taking office, Mayor de Blasio pledged to make his administration more open and transparent than his predecessors. Meanwhile, his administration allows a shelter opening operation so clandestine it makes the Central Intelligence Agency blush with envy.
In the end, who benefits? Certainly not those housed in these shelters, as past history dictates shelter residents face a difficult time getting out of them and back to independent lives.
Additionally, the shelter operators provide lax security and allow the buildings to fall into disrepair over time. The facilities are treated like prisons for the poor, complete with curfews and restrictions on guests. The city pays top dollar-well above the market rate in most places-to shelter operators and building owners to operate these facilities.
Repeatedly, alternatives have been offered to solve the homeless crisis-namely expanding rental subsidies. It ensures families get to stay in their homes or get to live where they want on their own, at half the rate the city currently pays to operate the shelters. That would, of course, take money out of the hands of well-connected nonprofit operators and unscrupulous landlords looking to make a quick buck at the expense of the destitute.
Yet residents in the Bronx and Far Rockaway had success fighting City Hall, while Glendale and Elmhurst-which, by the way, weren’t exactly favorable of the present mayor in the 2013 election-have yet to see results.
The city’s response to the homeless crisis is a financial game; we would hate to think it’s become a political game as well.
Prove us wrong, Mr. Mayor: stop the Glendale and Elmhurst shelters!