With many Queens hotels being used as makeshift homeless shelters in recent years, one local lawmaker is pushing for a new law that will require the management to inform customers if they’re housing homeless people.
Councilman Eric Ulrich of Howard Beach introduced on Aug. 9 legislation known as Intro. 1682, which would mandate that hotel owners post signage on site that they’re housing homeless residents, and that employees also inform paying customers of the same thing during check-in.
The Department of Homeless Services (DHS) has turned to hotels in Queens to provide shelter for the homeless as the city continues to grapple with the ongoing homelessness crisis. More than 60,000 people either sleep in shelters or on the streets every night, according to several recent reports.
One hotel in Ulrich’s district, the Comfort Inn on Redding Street in Ozone Park, began housing homeless people in October of 2016, but local officials were only informed about it the following February.
“The public has a right to know whether or not that hotel or that motel is also being used as a temporary homeless shelter,” Ulrich said in a statement. “It is not fair to those consumers — some of whom spend upwards of $600 a night — to be left out in the dark. There needs to be more transparency within the [DHS], which should provide accurate information to our communities, and to the more than 60 million people who visit the city each year.”
The DHS has rented rooms for the homeless at a Maspeth hotel that the city previously attempted to transform into a permanent shelter. Homeless people were also brought into hotels in other Queens neighborhoods, including Corona and Woodside. Mayor Bill de Blasio previously announced a plan to move homeless families and individuals out of shelters and into 90 new permanent facilities to be built in the years to come.
Ulrich dismissed any notion that his legislation is an attack on the homeless, but he did call it “a big stick in the eye” to the mayor. The councilman, who flirted with a potential challenge to de Blasio before ultimately endorsing private investigator Bo Dietl in his independent mayoral campaign, claimed “has absolutely failed abysmally when it comes to addressing the homelessness crisis that we have in this city.” Ulrich pointed out that this fiscal year, the city is spending $2.3 billion on homeless services, nearly double the amount spent just three years ago.
“Housing the city’s homeless in hotels is a waste of taxpayer dollars and does nothing to help these vulnerable individuals get back on their feet,” Ulrich added.
A DHS spokesperson told QNS in an email that it is committed “to completely ending the use of all 360 cluster and commercial hotel sites citywide.” Some commercial hotels are currently being used “as a bridge to shelter homeless New Yorkers who would otherwise be turned out into the streets.” The DHS believes Ulrich’s bill, if it becomes law, would “impact hotel owners’ willingness to provide this crucial capacity, preventing [the city] from meeting our court-ordered obligation to provide shelter to verifiable homeless New Yorkers in need, and resulting in homeless New Yorkers having no place to go.”
“Any disclosure of confidential client information, including addresses where homeless New Yorkers may be sheltered, is a violation of Social Services Law that could put our clients at risk, including domestic violence survivors, as they work to stabilize their lives,” according to a statement from DHS. “While we are reviewing the legislation, we have significant concerns about the impact it could have on our homeless neighbors.”
Meanwhile, the bill was referred to the City Council’s General Welfare Committee for further examination.