Protests planned against potential South Jamaica shelter

By Patrick Donachie

Protests are set to continue outside the proposed site of a small hotel development in Jamaica that has some community members worried it may be transformed into a homeless shelter upon opening.

The first protest at the intersection of 115th Avenue and Guy R. Brewer Boulevard was held earlier this month, and Michele Keller, a member of Community Board 12 and a member of the Coalition of Concerned Citizens of South Jamaica, said the rallies would likely continue after the holidays.

She stressed that residents were not opposed to the homeless, but were frustrated by what they saw as a glut of small hotels in South Jamaica being utilized as homeless shelters.

“We strove hard to maintain that community. It’s a diverse community, and we worked hard to build up our homes,” she said. “Do we want to help the homeless? Yeah, but not the way the city is going about it.”

Keller said the property is across the street from a bus depot in a primarily residential area. She said there would probably not be much demand for a hotel in the neighborhood, and it is a bus ride away from the transportation and retail amenities in downtown Jamaica. The circumstances led her to believe the developer may be planning to operate with the city as a de facto shelter.

“To put a hotel at that site where there’s no attraction from anyone out of town, it’s not conducive,” she said.

Keller acknowledged that the developer could build on the property “as of right” without requiring community board approval, but she said it would behoove developers to visit the community to detail their intentions.

The community had worked hard to stabilize the Jamaica residential communities in the 1990s, according to Keller, and were concerned that the prevalence of small hotels doubling as homeless shelters could affect property values in the area.

Keller said she hoped to meet with the developers and was under the impression the developers had met with Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica). Wills’ office did not comment as of press time.

She said she did not want the protests to inspire anger, which she thought would not lead to results. Keller also said other activists, including protesters from Maspeth who had advocated against the Holiday Inn Express shelter in that neighborhood, had accompanied the Jamaica group during their first protest at the site.

Keller said she hoped it would lead to “different coalitions” from around the borough joining forces.

“There’s no communications going on with communities, and it only pits people against one another,” she said about the city policy of housing homeless individuals in hotels. “You can’t expect people who work hard for their home to sit back.”

Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdonachie@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

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