By Bill Parry
For the second time in two months, City Comptroller Scott Stringer has rejected the Department of Homeless Service’s proposed five-year, $42 million contract with service provider Samaritan Village that would convert the former Pan American hotel into a permanent shelter for homeless families.
On Tuesday, state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) joined other elected officials and members of the Elmhurst United civic association outside the facility to protest quality-of-life issues at the shelter, located at 79-00 Queens Blvd. in Elmhurst.
Two day later Stringer announced the rejection of the contract.
“The Department of Homeless Services has not yet provided sufficient documentation to show that the Pan American Hotel facility is safe, and that all outstanding violations and complaints have been corrected,” he said. “As a result I have sent the contract back to allow the agency additional time to address the outstanding issues we identified.”
Avella applauded the comptroller’s decision to reject what he called a “disgraceful” contract.
“Today the voices of homeless families and the community as a whole have been heard,” he said.
Meanwhile, state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) urged the city to phase out the Pan Am shelter altogether and find suitable housing for the residents.
“The Pan Am facility is not safely serving the families being housed at that shelter,” she said. “Over the course of the last year, numerous incidents with rodents, leaking pipes, insufficient cooking and food storage facilities, and even a small fire, have demonstrated that this site is simply ill-equipped for use as a shelter for hundreds of people. DHS should use this time to search for other sites around the city as well as more permanent housing for families,”
DHS maintains it has taken steps to address all violations and provided the additional documentation requested after the first rejection in May.
“We have satisfied all substantive questions raised by the comptroller’s office, and we are disappointed that this decision will essentially deny payment to a shelter serving 197 vulnerable families, including 321 children,” a spokeswoman said. “The city’s Department of Investigation specifically recommended contracting providers in order to increase accountability, to ensure appropriate resources for critical social services, and to continues building well-maintained and violation-free facilities. The city has a legal and moral obligation to provide shelter, and we must preserve our existing facilities to meet that mandate. We will continue to appeal to the comptroller’s office about the importance of bringing this site into contract.”
U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing) believes Stringer made the “right call” in rejecting the permanent contract.
“It is critical that we address the needs of the homeless in our city, but this site is not an appropriate location for a shelter,” Meng said. “The many problems and poor conditions do not serve the homeless well, and the blatant lack of transparency has been a total snub to the community. Hopefully, in the end, the contract for this facility will not be approved.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr