By Bill Parry
While the Maspeth protests against a proposed shelter for homeless couples have generated headlines, the city was quietly moving homeless families with children into a Woodside motel.
The Department of Homeless Service is renting more than half of the 72-unit Quality Inn, located at 53-05 Queens Blvd., but there are currently no plans to turn the entire building into a homeless shelter, according to DHS.
“Each day, we are tasked with determining how to meet the city’s legal obligation to house thousands of homeless New Yorkers, including families with children, who would otherwise be on the street,” DHS spokeswoman Lauren Gray said. “These families come to us from every neighborhood.”
Reports last week said the number of homeless in the city had reached an all-time high with 59,300 living in citywide shelters that are almost at capacity, forcing DHS to house 4,000 in 46 motels last month, up from 1,000 in eight hotels in January 2015, according to the Wall Street Journal, although the DHS would not confirm this. While they say the Quality Inn is not being converted into a homeless shelter, DHS is providing 24/7 security and on-site social services for families during their stay there.
What DHS did not provide was any prior notice to elected officials or Community Board 2. City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunyside) was alerted by one of his constituents who lives nearby.
“While I will never protest the women and children seeking shelter at the Quality Inn, I am extremely upset that the administration converted this hotel into a temporary shelter without notifying anyone in the community,” Van Bramer said. “In situations like this, the best policy is transparency, not trying to sneak changes past local communities.”
State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria), who warned last year that residents of western Queens have been worried about the proliferation of hotels under construction, was also disappointed with DHS’s failure to provide notification.
“Better communication and prior notice in situations like this are critical requirements for neighborhood residents and their quality of life,” Gianaris said.
Meanwhile, state Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky (D-Flushing) and City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) delivered more than 200 backpacks, filled with school supplies, to students of all ages living in the Boulevard Family Shelter at the former Pan American Hotel. The 216-unit facility, located at 79-00 Queens Blvd. in Elmhurst, has provided shelter to homeless families with children.
“All children have a right to a quality education,” Dromm, a former public school teacher, said. “These free school supplies help provide that by enabling them to excel in the classroom.”
The Queens Center mall provided 1,400 backpacks for community back-to-school events this year across the borough.
“Proper school supplies set children on the right track for the school year,” Stavisky said. “No one should be denied a backpack, notebook, pens or any other materials they need to be a productive student. I believe families should not have to choose between buying groceries or buying school supplies. Socio-economic status should not determine your access to a great education.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr