The city’s homeless czar came to Queens last week to face a sometimes hostile group of community leaders who object to his policy of renting rooms in motels and hotels without notifying elected officials.
Steven Banks, who oversees the Department of Homeless Services, attended a meeting at Borough Hall where he pointed out that the city must provide 30 days notice to the community when it wants to open a homeless shelter. But renting out rooms on a nightly basis is not subject to this requirement.
The former homeless advocate who infuriated past city administrations said Queens now has 8,500 homeless people living in shelters and occupying fewer than 5,000 units. With the citywide shelter population now at 60,000, Banks said he had little choice but to find temporary space in hotels for the displaced.
But his efforts to make his case failed to mollify community board leaders and lawmakers who questioned the city’s honesty in dealing with neighborhoods where the de Blasio administration has claimed it had no plans to move people into hotels and then reversed course weeks later.
Even before Banks’ visit, elected officials in western Queens had complained DHS assured them it had no proposals to convert the Clarion Hotel into a shelter. But two months later the East Elmhurst hotel became a full-fledged shelter under a different name.
“Based on that record, how can I trust DHS?” said state Sen. Jose Peralta, echoing the frustration of other officials across the borough who have been blindsided by the de Blasio administration on the shelter issue.
The closely watched campaign by residents fighting the city over its use of the Holiday Inn in Maspeth for homeless men has Queens on high alert. Homeless people have been moved into hotels in Bellerose, Corona, Rosedale and a former boutique motel in the Rockaways without prior notice to the pols who represent those neighborhoods.
Queens lawmakers are feeling stonewalled by the mayor. Several have told the TimesLedger that they have compassionate and practical proposals that could help find the homeless a place to live in Queens, but the mayor has been unwilling to meet with them. Banks is sent in to do the mayor’s bidding, but the electeds question whether de Blasio is even interested in listening to them.
Queens doesn’t trust the mayor on the homeless issue, which is bad for the borough. The mayor should come clean with Queens and make it a priority to alert officials when a hotel begins taking in homeless. It would help greatly if de Blasio picked up the phone.