Queens lawmakers appalled at city videos of Maspeth shelter protesters

Queens lawmakers appalled at city videos of Maspeth shelter protesters
By Bill Parry

Three Queens lawmakers took to the steps on City Hall Thursday to demand the de Blasio administration provide realistic, effective solutions to New York City’s homelessness crisis. City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), state Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) and state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) condemned the mayor’s treatment of homelessness and short-sighted policies.

“We have increased spending on homelessness by hundreds of millions of dollars, but have seen no results, just short-sighted proposals and ineffective strategies,” Crowley said.

The mayor’s policy of converting commercial hotels into shelters for families is no solution for the record 60,000 homeless people in New York City, they said.

“Forcing homeless families into small, unlivable rooms with no kitchens, no public transportation and no access to vital community resources is not a way to help those in need and simply trying to get back on their feet,” Addabbo said. “Every attempt to convert another hotel into a shelter is more proof that Mayor de Blasio and the Department of Homeless Services are not interested in providing real, long-term solution for these individuals — many of whom are disabled, children, senior citizens and veterans.”

The administration responded.

“Opposition to our goal of housing vulnerable New Yorkers is focused on shelters’ perceived imprint on property values and crime,” de Blasio spokeswoman Aja Worthy-Davis said. “Those are not New York values and the mayor won’t be intimidated when it comes to standing up for homeless children and families.”

The administration has been pushing back against formidable opposition in Maspeth where rallies have been held each weeknight for nearly two months outside a proposed shelter on 55th Road. In recent weeks the protesters have traveled to other parts of the borough in solidarity with other communities.

When they went to the Bellerose Inn on Sept. 24, DHS transported families to spend the day at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan “rather than be subjected to angry protesters on their doorstep.” Then the administration posted a video on social media that juxtaposed images of frightened children as adults rallied.

“I was appalled by that video, that propaganda video,” said Addabbo, who was at the Bellerose rally. “The optics of that are so wrong. The video shows angry white people outside and people of color coming out of the shelter. The message is obvious.”

The administration defended it’s use of the 86-second production.

“Our video shows the city two sides of an important debate,” de Blasio spokesman Eric Phillips said. “The mayor wants to house homeless New Yorkers safely, and our opponents want to kick homeless kids and families to the street. If someone is ashamed of how they look in that debate, they should probably change sides.”

The administration released a second video Wednesday depicting a young woman changing a newborn’s diaper inside the Bellerose Inn as protesters shout outside.

“We didn’t ask to be here, we just asked for help and this is where we got help from,” LaToya Martinez said. “If I didn’t have this, we’d be out on the streets.”

Addabbo was even more insensed by the second video.

“Now I’m doubly appalled,” he said Friday. “I have never seen, in all my years, a mayor make this much effort to shame people who have a passion for their neighborhood. I’d like to see the mayor expend this kind of energy on fixing his failed policy.”

Peralta, whose district already has five shelters with DHS renting rooms at a sixth location, has seen the productions.

“These are nothing but propagandistic videos, political tactics to see in dirty campaigns,” Peralta said. “It is simply unreal to say that our constituents all over Queens do not care about New Yorkers going through tough times. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our constituents are frustrated because this administration does not seek community support when, sometimes overnight, they convert hotels into homeless shelters. Let’s stop this useless tactic, stop with the lies, and overhaul a system that has not worked. It is time for all stakeholders to sit down at the table and agree on a road map to put an end to the crisis.”

On Friday, several elected officials in Eastern Queens announced that DHS will comply with hotel owner Harshad Patel and no longer use the Bellerose Inn and Quality Inn as housing for homeless families within the next 60 days.

“Now that we have confirmed that the city will comply with his wishes, we have to work towards finding a more permanent solution to help these families,” state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) said.

DHS would not say how this would affect its proposed shelter at the Maspeth Holiday Inn Express, which Patel also owns.

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