By Bill Parry
One day after blaming “local opposition” for its decision to shelve plans to convert the Maspeth Holiday Inn Express into a full shelter for the homeless, the de Blasio administration has changed the narrative. Human Resources Administration Commissioner Steven Banks, who oversees the Department of Homeless Services, said this week hotel owner Harshad Patel dictated the new direction.
“The owner of the Maspeth Holiday Inn refused to allow the city to convert the hotel into a shelter,” Banks said. “Instead, the hotel owner agreed to rent rooms to keep homeless New Yorkers off the street, and the city has done so. Our first priority remains the safety and well-being of those DHS serves. We will continue to implement the plan to have shelters in every borough so that New Yorkers seeking shelter can stay in their borough, near schools, jobs, family and their community.”
DHS moved 30 employed homeless men into the hotel Monday afternoon. Hours later the protesters, known as the Maspeth-Middle Village Task Force, rallied out front, something they have done each weeknight for two months.
Last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio vowed to “happily stare them down” after they rented buses and traveled to Bellerose, Rosedale and Brooklyn where they protested at Banks’ home. On Tuesday, de Blasio tried to dispel the notion that the protesters won.
“The Maspeth Holiday Inn will continue to provide temporary housing for working adults,” de Blasio said. “This is a citywide problem and we need a citywide solution. We didn’t back down on sheltering homeless New Yorkers in Maspeth and we won’t in other communities. We have a citywide moral and legal responsibility to shelter homeless New Yorkers.”
Meanwhile, elected officials in eastern Queens announced Tuesday that DHS would comply with Patel’s wishes to no longer use hotels in Bellerose and Floral Park to shelter homeless individuals and families just two weeks after the Maspeth-Middle Village Task Force rallied there.
Monday night’s protest outside the Holiday Inn Express was double its usual size and after Tuesday’s comments by the mayor and Banks the demonstration tripled in size, according to Juniper Park Civic Association President Bob Holden.
“The city keeps coming up with new scenarios, so how can we trust anybody in this? The city changes its story by the day and it’s demonstrating their incompetence,” he said. “The administration is really sticking it to Maspeth by sending in single men, that’s historically the worst population of any shelter. It’s not a coincidence that we’re getting men here.”
And Holden said he is expecting more are on the way in the coming weeks.
“You better believe once it gets colder that contract will arrive at the comptroller’s office for a full-blown shelter,” he said. “We’re getting angrier and people are beginning to discuss civil disobedience. We don’t trust anyone. Patel lied to us and the mayor’s office is even worse.”
Meanwhile, the Maspeth-Middle Village Task Force drew several hundred residents and raised over $13,500 at O’Neill’s pub in Maspeth last Saturday. The group will use the funds to rent buses to carry protesters to shelters around the city.
“We’re in contact with 24 community associations right now,” Holden said. “On Saturday we’ll rally at the Maspeth Holiday Inn for an hour and then board buses for Sunset Park in Brooklyn, where there are 10 shelters, and we’re still working on details for a massive demonstration with these other groups at City Hall.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr