By Bill Parry
Last Friday marked the one-year anniversary of the Boulevard Family Residence, a shelter for homeless families that the Department of Homeless Services established, under emergency decree, at the former Pan American Hotel in Elmhurst. Just a week after the shelter opened, nearly a thousand residents of Elmhurst and several other neighborhoods protested outside the hotel, at 79-00 Queens Blvd., and protests continued through the following months
Racial epithets were hurled at each protest, in both directions, between the primarily Asian crowds and the mainly Black and Hispanic shelter residents.
“Let’s just say Elmhurst didn’t put its best face on during those protests, especially our Asian community,” Elmhurst resident Lester Lin said. “I knew I had some work to do to mend some fences and help these people.”
As part of that work, Lin, the Event Coordinator for City Mission at the nearby Newtown Church, hosted a barbecue last summerfor the families living in the shelter. “I wanted to show the residents of the shelter a better side of the community and invest in the future of these families,” Lin said. “I also wanted to show my community that these are families who have jobs and have children and are struggling to make ends meet just like the rest of us.”
Lin didn’t stop with the barbecue. He’s stopped by with several volunteers once a month to spend time with the children at the shelter.
The 31-year-old co-owns a title insurance company with his brother, and in addition to his duties as youth director at Newtown Church he owns a small recording studio. “I’ve been able to bring some of the kids to the studio, they have a ball,” Lin said. “The families here are awesome. We’ll do anything we can to make them feel better about themselves until they ultimately get out of the system.”
DHS First Deputy Commissioner Lorrainne Stephens said, “City Mission’s volunteers are doing admirable and truly kind work by organizing events and donations for our families with children living at the Boulevard Family Shelter. We hope others will follow City Mission’s example and support their efforts.”
Priscilla Stadler, who lives just doors away, volunteers with Lin’s group. “I didn’t appreciate the fearful and racist tones during those protests last year,” she said. “I wasn’t proud of my Elmhurst neighbors, to see them yelling at the people living here. But then I began to hear voices of empathy and that’s how I came across Lester’s group.”
Lin says he’s overcome some initial suspicion from DHS officials and the staff of the operator of the residence
Samaritan Village. “Once they realized that I don’t do politics, that I’m just here to help these people, they eased up quite a bit and I’ve come to respect the work they do,” he said.
City Mission is a non-profit, and Lin plans on raising funds so he can do more for the families. “We’re still trying to learn what we can do,” he said.
Lin returns to the former Pan American almost every night to check on the kids. “I’ll never forget the first time I came in here and a child screamed ‘Mom, it’s a Chinese man!’” he recalled. “That’s all he saw outside during the rallies, and I was like, c’mon man, I’m not such a bad guy.”