By Bill Parry
After protesting the city’s plan to convert the Holiday Inn Express into a homeless shelter every weeknight since mid-August, the Maspeth-Middle Village Task Force announced a change in strategy Sunday.
The group will no longer hold rallies in front of the 55th Road location. Instead they will continue to take road trips to protest at hotel owner Harshad Patel’s home and those of his business partners as well as other communities that are part of its growing coalition of anti-shelter civic associations.
“We realized that we were keeping paying customers away from the hotel, which in turn freed up more rooms for DHS to rent,” Juniper Park Civic Association President Bob Holden said. “By bringing the protests to the doorsteps of Harshad Patel and his cronies, we will let them know that we are not backing down until they end their relationship with the city and the Acacia Network at the Maspeth Holiday Inn Express.”
Patel’s New Ram Realty is facing a lawsuit by property owner KCM Realty after Patel rented 30 rooms to the Department of Homeless Services to house 30 single men beginning Oct. 10. DHS is now renting 39 rooms to house 78 homeless individuals.
On Saturday, Holden and the task force rented a bus and traveled to Windsor Terrace in Brooklyn for their fourth visit to the home of Department of Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks, who oversees DHS. They were joined by representatives of other neighborhoods in the coalition, including Elmhurst, South Jamaica, Ozone Park and Richmond Hill.
“As of this morning, the NYC Department of Social Services reported a total of 60,579 people living in the shelter system. This figure is much higher than the day Commissioner Banks took over the office a year ago,” Holden said. “Just like in the ‘80s, hotel shelters, such as Maspeth’s Holiday Inn Express, do not work — they’re expensive, they are not designed to function as shelters, and they have neither the adequate security to protect nor the social services to help the residents.”
Protester after protester demanded Banks come up with real solutions to alleviating the homeless problem, including construction of affordable housing on unused city land, or else resign.
Holden dismissed Banks’ latest program known as Home For the Holidays, in which the city would pay family and friends of homeless families to house them.
“I think it’s strange offering money to take in families,” Holden said. “It’s another sign of him doing damage control with programs to reduce the number of people in the system. Look, Banks is not a bad man, he’s just not a good manager.”
Another issue raised during the rally was the calibre of people in the system. Two men from Park Slope in Brooklyn told a cautionary tale of the city converting hotels into shelters in their neighborhood.
Delvis Valdes recalled that in the first 30 years he lived in the neighborhood their were only two hotels. In the last five years a dozen more have opened with another currently under construction.
“You tell me that’s for tourists? Last I checked Sunset Park, although it’s a wonderful neighborhood, is not at the top of the list of tourist attractions in New York City,” Valdes said. “We don’t have a need for all these hotels in Sunset Park unless it’s for the mayor to come in and contract out those rooms. This nonsense has got to stop.”
Richard Villar said more of these hotels would be converted into shelters presenting a danger to the community.
“There was a child molester living at the 49th Street Sleep and (provider) Samaritan Village said no way — they lied,” he said. The city refused to admit it had placed convicted child molester Daunte Gonzales in the facility near three public schools, but officials with the state’s Division of Criminal Justice Services, which tracks predators for the state’s sex-offender registry, confirmed he was living there in early November and since moved to Manhattan.
State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) discovered a Level 2 sex offender living in the Corona Holiday Inn Express in late October. DHS began renting rooms at that location in September and moved quickly to transfer the individual. Also in October, DHS began renting “a small number of rooms” at the LaGuardia Marriott in East Elmhurst, which means Peralta has to keep an eye on seven such facilities now sheltering the homeless in his district.
“Here we go again with DHS. Another hotel in the district housing homeless people, and as usual, DHS is allergic to transparency, and they did not notify the community,” Peralta said. “I understand we are in the midst of a crisis in the city as the homelessness population continues to rise, but acting unilaterally is wrong.”
Banks assured Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and other elected officials in October that he would announce when homeless New Yorkers would be housed in hotels or similar facilities, Peralta recalled.
“I am wondering what happened to that project, as we didn’t know anything about it,” he said.
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr