By Gina Martinez
More than 800 angry Maspeth residents poured into the Knockdown Center on Flushing Avenue Wednesday night for a public hearing on the proposed homeless shelter in the Holiday Inn Express.
Community Board 5 arranged the hearing after nearly two weeks of daily protests by residents outside the Holiday Inn at 59-40 55th Road, where the shelter would be located.
In a move that appeared to take the audience by surprise, City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) announced that she had filed a suit against the city to stop the homeless center. She was accompanied by state Assemblywoman Marge Markey ((D-Maspeth) who was showered with boos after she missed an Aug. 11 community meeting at Martin Luther High School.
In her brief remarks, Markey told the crowd that they we’re being “manipulated” before leaving the Knockdown Center.
Crowley said her suit also named Steve Banks, the commissioner of the Department of Homeless Services. She was joined in the legal action by state Sen. Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) and Markey.
Earlier in the evening when Banks appeared at the meeting, members of the community turned their backs on him.
“I wanted to make sure that you, the people of Maspeth, knew that I’m doing everything in my power to make sure that we hold the mayor accountable,” Crowley said. “The lawsuit says that the mayor of the city of New York is in clear violation of the city administrative code. The law states clearly homeless families must be housed in shelters that have kitchens and we all know that the Holiday Inn does not have kitchens.”
The hearing followed an unsuccessful town hall meeting Aug. 11, when hundreds of people showed up along with lawmakers and representatives who expressed their concerns about an influx of homeless people. Residents were adamant in their opposition, saying three homeless shelters in the area were enough and they feared another shelter would negatively affect the neighborhood.
The controversy began when the mayor’s office met with CB 5 and elected officials at the Maspeth Public Library last month. At the meeting plans for a potential Oct. 1 opening of the shelter at the Holiday Inn Express were proposed. The shelter would house 220 people, according to the Department of Homeless Services. There are currently about 250 people in shelters who listed their most recent address as Community District 5 in Queens, according to DHS, but the Maspeth facility would be open to people from across the city.
DHS tried to explain its mission to Maspeth residents at the Aug. 11 meeting.
“New York City is legally obligated to provide shelter to any New Yorker who would otherwise be turned out onto the streets,” a DHS spokeswoman said. “We have met with community leaders and participated in an open community forum to continue to build a constructive dialogue around this issue. Homelessness is a citywide challenge that requires a citywide response.”
For nearly two weeks Maspeth residents have stood outside the Holiday Inn Express waving signs to get passers-by to honk in favor of keeping the proposed shelter out of the neighborhood. On Saturday, more than 2,000 marched in protest through the streets of Maspeth.
Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at gmart