Furious Maspeth residents turn their backs on city official at hearing over homeless shelter

Turned backs web
Photo: Anthony Giudice/QNS

They’re mad as hell, and they’re not going to take it anymore.

Over one thousand angry residents filled the Knockdown Center in Maspeth on Wednesday night to once again show Mayor Bill de Blasio, his administration and the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) that they will not stand for the planned homeless shelter that the Holiday Inn Express.


As Vincent Arcuri, chair of Community Board 5 (CB 5), which organized the public meeting, introduced Steven Banks, commissioner of the Human Resources Administration (HRA), the entire audience rose as one out of their seats and turned their backs on him, refusing to hear what he had to say about the city’s homelessness crisis and the plan for the Holiday Inn.

Photo by Anthony Giudice/QNS

“So it’s an Irish protest,” Arcuri said, to the ire of some of those in attendance who found the remark off-color.

When community members had their chance on the microphone, they held nothing back, calling the mayor’s administration and Banks himself failures for their handling of the city’s homelessness crisis.

“This is nothing more than a glorified jail cell, this Holiday Inn Express,” said Robert Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association (JPCA). “Mark my words, if it comes, we will do everything possible to shut that area down on a nightly basis and we will not tolerate something that’s being shoved down our throats.”

Holden continued by telling Banks that the community isn’t opposed to taking in a few homeless families that fit into the neighborhood’s housing stock, but to house 220 people in inadequate hotel rooms, “that makes you a failure.”

Lawmakers tell the city to back off

The Aug. 31 meeting was just the latest chapter in the ongoing battle against the homeless shelter, as residents have previously marched across Maspeth and held nightly protests outside of the Holiday Inn.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley announced during the meeting that she, state Senator Joseph Addabbo and Assemblywoman Margaret Markey have joined together to file a lawsuit against the Mayor’s Office.

“This lawsuit declares that the Mayor’s Office is in clear violation of the city’s administrative code,” Crowley said to cheers from the audience. “The law states that adult, homeless families must be housed in units with kitchen facilities — which we know do not exist inside hotel rooms.”

The lawmaker also mentioned the fact that the de Blasio administration has been letting contracts with legal cluster shelters across the city end.

“Now, while the administration may try to hide behind an emergency declaration for this Maspeth shelter, the truth remains clear — the mayor is allowing these other contracts to be phased out, and is giving up these legal cluster sites,” Crowley added. “The goal of this lawsuit is to stop the administration from letting go of their existing contracts, to help improve the conditions within the clusters, and ensure the city is doing what is right, fair and just.”

When Addabbo took the mic, he seemed to confirm a suspicion among Maspeth residents that the city is dumping burdens on them, and Queens in general.

“Nobody knows this, two or so years ago all the Queens elected officials were called into City Hall and we were told … that Queens was not taking its fair share, and therefore we are getting shelters,” Addabbo said. “And we got seven days’ notice at that time to fight it. There’s no way we’re going to fight it. There’s no wait. Queens is taking its fair share. My concern has always been we are being targeted. And that’s why we have the Pan Am [shelter], that’s why we are fighting Glendale, and Maspeth and the Metro hotel (in Elmhurst). We are being targeted and that is my concern, because the Mayor’s Office said so.”

No mercy for Markey

When Markey was introduced, she was greeted with a chorus of boos from the crowd because of her seeming lack of interest in her constituent’s fight against this homeless shelter. She was not at the first community meeting about the shelter, has not showed up to any of the nightly protests and was a no-show at the march on Saturday, Aug. 27.

“Why are you booing me?” she asked the audience.

After stating that she does not support the shelter and has not given any money toward it, she told the crowd, “You’re being manipulated.” She then threw up her hands and walked off to even more boos.

After the hearing, Arcuri said that CB 5 would review what they have heard from the community and Banks, and take their official position in regards to the shelter in order to provide a recommendation.