By Bill Parry
It was nearly a year ago when Human Resources Administration Commissioner Steven Banks told a room full of City Council members and community board leaders at Borough Hall that he understood the challenges it creates for local leaders not to have prior knowledge when the Department of Homeless Services rents rooms in commercial hotels to shelter the homeless, and he promised that would change.
Last week, DHS, the agency Banks oversees, began moving homeless families into hotels in Sunnyside and Kew Gardens and elected officials are seething about the lack of proper notice and lack of input from those communities.
The city reserved all 82 rooms at the Best Western at 38-05 Hunters Point Ave. in Sunnyside and began moving in homeless families Tuesday, Sept. 26 , the same day it notified City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) and Community Board 2.
“I am disappointed that my office and the community did not have any input in or knowledge of the decision to convert this hotel,” Van Bramer said. “While we can never demonize the homeless, many of which are children, I share in my community’s frustration of the process by which this decision was made.”
State Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan (Long Island City) said she was “outraged and disappointed” in a letter she fired off to Mayor Bill de Blasio. “I do not feel that our community was given adequate notice, nor time to prepare for this development,” she wrote.
DHS says it needs the rooms because it has begun phasing out the use of 3,600 cluster units citywide, apartments in private buildings that are often in disrepair.
“We are using commercial hotels like this location as a bridge to provide shelter to homeless New Yorkers, including families with children, who would otherwise be turned out into the street,” DHS spokesman Isaac McGinn said.
Van Bramer would not argue against that, having experienced homelessness when he was a child. If the city had notified him earlier he would have raised the issue of safety.
The Best Western sits at the bottom of the off ramp from the Long Island Expressway and drivers jockey with drivers on the service road.
“It’s a really bad location for this shelter full of young children,” Van Bramer said. “These roadways are often clogged and dangerous because of the backed up traffic from the LIE. We had to install bollards there because frustrated drivers go the wrong way down one-way streets often in reverse. They should reconsider using this hotel as a shelter because we know those streets are dangerous.”
DHS rented out 42 rooms at the Comfort Inn at 123-28 82nd Ave. in Kew Gardens just across the street from Borough Hall. The agency began using 19 of the rooms to provide shelter for homeless men Saturday, the day after notifying City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Firest Hills) as Yom Kippur began.
“I am upset that DHS chose to inform my office of its placement of homeless individuals in a hotel in my district a few hours before the start of the holiest day in the Jewish calendar,” Koslowitz said. “DHS displayed a lack of sensitivity in contacting my office at such a time. I was therefore unavailable to ask question or offer my reservation about such a placement.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr