We need new solutions for housing the homeless

By Bob Harris

The policy of the city to make hotels in residential communities into homeless shelters has moved from Elmhurst and Maspeth to Corona, Bellerose, Long Island City, Jamaica Hills and out to Manhattan, Brooklyn and Nassau. The irate people of Maspeth have taken their battle against a homeless shelter in a Holiday Inn Express to the home of the owner in Oyster Bay, L.I. and to the home of the HRA Commissioner in Brooklyn. The Juniper Park Civic Association residents rent buses which take groups of people to march for a couple of hours chanting, blowing whistles and using air horns to announce their presence. A Nassau civic association even joined the marchers in Oyster Bay. Southeast Queens communities are angry that they have so many hotel shelters.

The homeowners opposed to these homeless shelters are forming a coalition of civic groups from Queens and throughout New York City to fight these policies. Phil Wong, who lives near the Pan Am homeless shelter is on the board of the Queens Civic Congress and gives monthly reports to the member civic leaders. He and Sally Wang are slowly building a coalition of people who will support the fight and demonstrate when necessary.

This reminds me of the fight against 100 percent reassessment several decades ago. The state had to change the assessment law and wanted to raise all home assessment up to 100 percent then bring it down. The civic associations all over the city united, held rallies, delivered circulars to homes all over the city and when members of Assembly Speaker Fink booed him at a local civic meeting in Brooklyn the idea was dropped. This kind of pressure is needed now.

In current homeless shelters, like the Pan Am hotel, the city has violated its own laws. It puts families into hotel rooms without a kitchen and is now adding kitchens for the owners and pays the hotels $3,000 a month per room for a homeless family. There is concern where the 100,000 homeless children can do their homework in a hotel room? Although officials say they provide services to the homeless, reports keep appearing that there is little or no counseling, job training, or job placement for these families.

Reports say that the homeless shelters make the clients leave at 9:00 a.m. for the day. This means that they are all over the neighborhoods all day long. Most homeless are good people who are on hard times and many do work but don’t earn enough for a full apartment but some are drug and alcohol abusers, have mental problems and just don’t take their medications. Disturbed, single people in the shelter system can be disruptive; they disrupt a quiet residential community. Legislators all over Queens are also holding rallies and submitting bills which would solve problems. Lack of local transportation would limit what the residents could do.

Some solutions could be new rental assistance for people who are on the edge of being evicted and who need help from falling into the shelter system. It is said that NYCHA has several thousand vacant apartments. Why can’t they be fixed up quickly? Many vacant houses are all over the city. There are a few in every community. Why can’t they and the AIRbnb apartments be used to help worthy families? The city must seek relief from the 1983 ruling by Judge Helen Freedman which says the city must provide housing for all on demand…even people who come from other states. There is a suggestion to build Quonset huts as we did after WWII for the veterans.

The state must use must many of their upstate building from closed prisons and mental institutions to house the homeless. This could provide useful jobs for upstate residents. Meanwhile, Fresh Meadows waits for what will happen when the large hotel on 183rd Street and the two hotels on the Horace Harding Expressway at 183rd Street open.

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