Long Island City residents on Thursday sharply criticized the city’s decision to bus out homeless families from a nearby hotel to house homeless men instead.
The City View Inn, located at 33-17 Greenpoint Ave., began admitting families last July. In January, the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) transferred the families to other shelters to make room for single men.
According to Community Board 2 Chairperson Denise Keehan-Smith, DHS did not notify the board about the change, which officially occurred on Jan. 19. She heard about it from a news report after the switch had already been made.
DHS officials said all 54 families were moved to other sites to meet “immediate capacity needs.” They added that due to the long periods of cold weather, the amount of single men requiring shelter rose. Single adult men are also not allowed to occupy the same shelter as families with children.
Families who live near the hotel attended a Community Board 2 meeting in Sunnyside on March 1 to express how the change has negatively impacted the neighborhood and local businesses in the area.
Erika Clooney, a co-owner of Bantry Bay Publick House at 33-01 Greenpoint Ave., has been working at the bar and restaurant for 12 years. Clooney and her husband recently bought into the business, putting their “entire life savings” into the pub.
Clooney said she had “absolutely no problem” with the homeless families next door to her business but that since the switch “the demeanor of my business and my neighborhood has completely changed.”
Currently, 60 rooms with 114 beds, or 85 percent of the building is occupied by the single adult men.
She said she has had to call 911 three times in the last three months and that recently, two men who she believes are staying at the homeless shelter entered her bar, asked for two beers and ran out without paying for them.
“What I’m afraid of right now, I’ve never had to have a thought to have a buzzer on my door,” she said. “I might have to buzz people in. That looks really bad. My life savings is in this. They have just come in with one swift brush and now could completely blow out my future.”
Clooney said is also concerned by the city’s plan to convert the Fairfield Inn by Marriott at 52-34 Van Dam St., which is about three blocks away from her business, into a permanent homeless shelter.
“I’m very, very upset over the potential homeless shelter being proposed at the Marriott,” she said. “I get most of our night business from the Marriott hotel. We have a lot of tourists, a lot of local businessmen, a lot of people working construction on those bridges that are there staying every night and they come to our restaurant.”
Maria Davis, who has lived in the Blissville section of Long Island City for 16 years, owns a home near the hotel. She also has two teenage daughters, 17 and 19, who have autism. She said this conversion has affected them.
“My 17-year-old just finished travel training because she wants to be an independent traveler,” Davis said, her voice shaking. “But because there are 100 men living in that homeless shelter I had to explain to her that she could not meet her goal of becoming an independent traveler in her community and that our neighborhood is no longer as safe as it once was.”
Davis told the board that as she walked out of her house at 8:30 a.m. one morning she found “a man as big as a defensive lineman in front of my house smoking weed.”
The man, who she believes is a shelter resident, shouted “profanities” and became “agitated and belligerent” as she walked away from her house, she said.
There are currently 262 people from Community District 2 in shelters around the city and 758 individuals sheltered in the district, DHS officials said. The three hotels already providing shelter in the district include The Verve Hotel in Long Island City, which houses homeless women, the City View Inn and the Best Western Hotel in Sunnyside, a shelter for homeless families.
Matt Wallace, the chief of staff for Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, attended the meeting to express his boss’ frustration at how DHS and Mayor Bill de Blasio have handled the homeless crisis. Wallace said DHS is “disproportionately siting [homeless] facilities in our district.”
“It’s important that the city provide individuals and families who are experiencing homelessness with shelter and resources ensuring opportunities for them to find work and permanent affordable housing,” Wallace said in a statement by the councilman. “However, Department of Homeless Services has been reckless in their use of commercial hotels as temporary shelters throughout Queens and especially in this district. We already house many more homeless individuals than those that come from our district so we’re doing more than our fair share already.”
In the statement, Van Bramer said the mayor’s Turning the Tide plan is “simply not working” and that he and DHS “are failing us.”
Hotels are expected to be phased out of the shelter system by the end of 2023 as part of the mayor’s Turn the Tide plan, including three hotels in Community District 2.
David Martin, whose family has lived in the same house in Blissville for 100 years, said he and his fiancee have seen “a lot of changes” in the neighborhood within the last few weeks.
“The community that is there now is all for helping people,” he said. “We didn’t have any problems when there were families there. We just want a safe neighborhood to live in and it was until about two months ago and now we see things happening. I’m a scientist. I’m talking evidence. I’m not talking feelings or emotions.”
On March 15, DHS will host a community conversation on the Fairfield Inn proposal at St. Raphael’s Church at 35-20 Greenpoint Ave. from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Watch the meeting below: