By Mark Hallum
The public took turns lashing out against a homeless shelter slated for Blissville at a public hearing on week by the city Department of Homeless Services at St. Rafael’s church.
Residents argued there are not enough commercial services in the area to support the homeless population while some claimed a shelter at the Fair Field Inn by Marriott will take the power from their hands to control the safety of their community.
“I don’t know how you expect them to receive services and to heal in a big building with an average [of 500 individuals],” Maria Davis, the mother of an autistic child, said. “The right of parents to know the barometer of the safety surrounding our children is paramount. Therefore, my question is… can you guarantee me that I can let my daughter travel independently to and from school?”
One DHS official said individuals coming through the door at facilities operated by the city agency are screened in order to assess their mental health and physical needs, which will be treated by the facility itself in most cases.
The city plans to buy out every room of the hotel — located at 52-34 Van Dam St. — making it the third homeless shelter in the area. It will house 154 adult families and join the City View Inn on Greenpoint Avenue and a Best Western on the Sunnyside border.
City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) claimed his district already houses five times as many homeless people as it produces and that placing 500 people in a neighborhood, just five city blocks from north to south, would equal the number of permanent residents in Blissville.
“I have, and the people of Blissville have compassion and empathy for those who are experiencing homelessness but there is an undue burden being placed on this neighborhood,” Van Bramer said. “The Mayor’s plan is about equity but there is none here. My district is currently housing 4 times the number of homeless it produces and if this new site opens, the neighborhood population will be outnumbered by those living in shelters. The plan calls for eliminating the use of commercial hotels, but this new site will simply turn another commercial hotel into a shelter.”
Helen Ho, director of External Affairs for nearby LaGuardia Community College, said the institution welcomes options for students in their system who are currently without a roof over their head.
Although strongly opposed by numerous communities in Queens, Mayor de Blasio’s Turning the Tide initiative places a homeless shelter in every community board in the city to address the crisis of more than 60,000 people living on the streets.
“Homeless New Yorkers come from every community across the five boroughs, so we need every community to come together to address homelessness. As we implement our borough-based approach, we will be ending the use of all cluster sites and commercial hotel facilities citywide, including the three commercial hotels in this community district,” DHS spokesman Isaac McGinn said. “This high-quality facility will be the first of its kind in this community district, offering 154 adult families from Queens the opportunity to be sheltered in their home borough, closer to their support networks and communities they called home as they get back on their feet. Working together with neighbors and nonprofit service provider Home/Life, we’re confident that these families will be warmly welcomed—and through collaborative support and compassion, we will make this the best experience it can be for these individuals.”
The city plans to phase out the use of hotels and cluster sites by 2022, but until then the Fairfield Inn will be bought out by DHS starting in April.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall