By Bill Parry
Since moving into the Holiday Inn Express in Maspeth Oct. 10, 30 homeless men have been subjected to raucous rallies each weeknight from area residents. But on Thursday afternoon a half dozen of the residents received kindness instead in the form of care packages full of toiletries and basic necessities prepared by neighborhood high school students.
“There’s been a lot of protests and we just want to make sure they feel supported,” 17-year-old Ryan Chang of Middle Village said.
Chang and Alfred Chan, 17, of Elmhurst handed the gifts to each man along with handshakes and hugs. The two high school students are members of City Mission, a non-profit that was started by Elmhurst resident Lester Lin in 2014 after his neighbors rallied against the homeless families the city moved into the Pan American Hotel to show a better side of his Elmhurst community.
“Let’s just say Elmhurst didn’t put its best face on during those protests, especially our Asian community,” Lin said. “I knew I had some work to do to mend fences and help these people.”
What began with a simple barbecue for families in the Elmhurst shelter in a nearby church parking lot has grown into a youth movement with monthly events and holiday parties in numerous shelters and hotels across the borough.
“I just hope they feel a bit of love, especially at this time of year,” Chan said.
“I’ve seen those protests every night and I have to say this reception is a little nicer,” Steven from Brooklyn said. “It’s very nice of them to take the time for us. Real nice around Christmas.”
He lost his home after it was declared unsafe from water damage and has not found an affordable home despite his full time job at JCPenney.
Tyrone Burton, 52, lost his home in Jamaica when his relationship broke up. He was also unable to find affordable housing despite a full time job at Macy’s for 16 years.
“It’s really tough out there,” he said. “I just can’t afford $1,200 for a little studio apartment, but I keep looking.”
There were only a handful of residents present at the reception. The rest were still at work, according to a city official.
“It’s amazing and I’m overwhelmed by these kids and their Christmas spirit. It really says a lot about this community,” Carl Brennan, 49, said.
Brennan worked for as a hair stylist for 30 years before he broke his neck in a car accident and can no longer raise his arms.
“I didn’t pay attention to those nightly protests, which finally ended last month,” he said. “I figure they didn’t understand. They think we are just derelicts who don’t want to work and that’s just not the case at all.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr