Maspeth takes homeless protests to other parts of boro

The Maspeth shelter protesters take another road trip to support members of the Meadowmere Park Civic Association in Rosedale.
Courtesy Christina Wilkinson
By Bill Parry

After nearly two months of rallies each weeknight at a proposed homeless shelter in Maspeth, protesters are expanding their actions to other parts of the borough.

In the latest foray, the Maspeth-Middle Village Task Force bused demonstrators to Rosedale, where they joined members of the Meadowmere Park Civic Association last Saturday to protest at a Holiday Inn located at 154-71 Brookville Road. The Meadowmere group was upset that the city had housed 150 homeless men on the first two floors.

Bob Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, which helped set up the task force, criticized the city for its treatment of the homeless housed in hotels.

“They throw them out at 9 a.m., sending them into the neighborhood.,” he said. “We don’t want that, we refuse to put up with that.”

Protesters claimed that with no job assistance offered or public transportation nearby, the men are left with little choice but to wander around the residential area.

“The Department of Homeless Services is currently renting rooms in this commercial hotel to help meet its legal obligation to shelter homeless New Yorkers,” DHS spokeswoman Lauren Gray said. “There are no plans to convert this location to a shelter and no requirement that clients who are staying there leave for any time period during the day. It is unfortunate that misinformation regarding this location is being spread, and we will continue to correct the record while we care for our fellow New Yorkers.”

Holden said the task force will continue to take road trips to expose the rash of hotels that are being converted into shelters around the borough. Two weeks ago they went to Bellrerose and Floral Park and rallied before protesting at the home of Harshad Patel, who owns the Quality Inn in Floral Park, the Bellerose Inn and the Holiday Inn Express in Maspeth.

The pressure appears to have paid off. State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and City Councilman Barry Grodenchik (D-Oakland Gardens) announced Sept. 23 that Patel wanted to phase out accepting homeless families that the city places in his hotels. Patel told Holden that he was pulling of the deal to house homeless at the Maspeth Holiday Inn, although a source said the negotiations were continuing

Holden said the task force will continue to take road trips to expose the roster of hotels that are being turned into shelters across Queens. But the buses cost more than $700 to rent so the protesters have scheduled a fund-raiser on Saturday from 1 to 5 p.m. at O’Neill’s at 64-21 53rd Drive in Maspeth. Guardian Angels founder and radio personality Curtis Sliwa will be the special guest.

“These guys are like Paul Revere, they’re not just fighting for their neighborhood, they’re fighting for their borough,” Sliwa said. “They are leading the effort to expose what’s going on in Queens and they are empowering other communities to mobilize against the de Blasio administration. I’ve counted 17 conversions in Queens already. I find it unconscionable that the city is ramming shelters down these people’s throats.”

Sliwa joined in a protest at the Maspeth Holiday Inn in September and has “provided tactical air support” on his ABC radio show ever since.

“He’s had me on his show three times,” Holden said. “He’s been a tremendous asset helping us form coalitions and that’s helping us communicate with other communities.”

Sliwa, a frequent critic of the de Blasio administration on the airwaves, has flirted with challenging Borough President Melinda Katz, the mother of his two sons, for her seat next year. But his plans have changed.

“I’m giving Melinda a pass,” Sliwa said. “When I was at that rally in Maspeth everyone was telling me to run for mayor. I’m going to run against de Blasio for giving Queens that shiv in the back.”

Sliwa is currently deciding whether he will seek the Republican nomination or run as a candidate for the New York State Reform Party.

“They named me party chairman last month,” he said about the Reform Party. “I’m hoping to use it as a vehicle for change. That’s what people like the Maspeth protesters need.”

Those plans hit a speed bump Wednesday when he was served with a lawsuit brought by the former Reform Party chairman Dr. Bill Merrell.

“The suit is completely baseless and without merit,” Sliwa said. This is an attempt by state Republican leaders to continue to retain control of the Reform Party line so that it can be used only to cross-endorse Republicans, while benefitting from the Reform name.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

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