BY JAIME DEJESUS
The battle of the homeless shelters marches on.
Community groups from Queens and Sunset Park, Brooklyn, gathered with victims of homelessness outside of Department of Social Services (DSS) Commissioner Steven Banks’ home in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn on Saturday, Dec. 3, to protest the increasing number of homeless hotels in their neighborhoods and demand a solution.
Members of Elmhurst United and the Maspeth Middle Village Task Force had a strong showing among the boisterous crowd. Protesters blew whistles, banged cowbells and offered chants opposing Banks and Mayor Bill de Blasio, including “Part-time mayor, full-time dope!” and “Dump the dope from Park Slope.”
“Warehousing 800 people in small rooms in the Pan American Hotel is shameful,” said John Schaffer of Elmhurst United. “Warehousing homeless people without even providing them with the services to get back on their feet is disgraceful. Warehousing families with small children right next to level three registered sex offenders is absolutely reprehensible. Why does de Blasio fail to understand this?
“This is not helping the homeless and it is only encouraging developers and property owners to build more hotels and motels to convert into shelters instead of building residential housing, which is what we need,” he added. “Look at what is happening in Maspeth, Sunset Park, Jamaica and Elmhurst.”
“We are here because our property is losing value,” added Phil Wong of Elmhurst United. “Meanwhile, the homeless are not getting help. We have people with mental health issues that just classify as homeless; we have drug addicts that classify as homeless; we have veterans classified as homeless; and they need help.”
Residents also spoke of the hardships they have experienced living in the shelters.
“I’ve worked my whole life and I have a handicapped son that comes first,” said shelter resident Samantha. “When I went through my divorce, I couldn’t afford anything. I wound up where I am. Because of my son’s condition, he needs stability, but at any given time, they can knock on my unit door and tell me it’s time for me to go. Where’s the stability in that?”
“Steven Banks has been an advocate for homeless for decades, obviously, but he wasn’t a manager,” said Robert Holden of the Maspeth Middle Village Task Force. “He brings more people into the system without the space.” He went on to call Banks “a failure who should resign.”
Guardian Angels founder and talk radio show host Curtis Sliwa, who is rumored to be considering a mayoral run next year, also spoke out in support of the protesters.
The city defended its approach when contacted by Brooklyn Reporter.
“This administration believes that every community must share responsibility in housing homeless New Yorkers, and because the most effective tool against homelessness is preventing it in the first place, we’ve increased the number of tenants who’ve avoided eviction by 24 percent,” responded Aja Worthy-Davis, a spokesperson for the mayor in a statement. “An additional 45,000 residents have either exited or avoided shelter through our programs, and we’re building new affordable apartments in Sunset Park such as the Sunset Park Library project through partnerships with local elected officials.”
Robert Pozarycki contributed to this story.