By Bill Parry
State Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky (D-Flushing) was joined by members of the advocacy group Elmhurst United last week outside the former Pan American hotel, where she announced legislation she recently introduced that would mandate homeless family shelter units to have working kitchens.
The measure, S7181 A, would require family homeless shelters for 10 or more families to have working kitchens within 60 days of the registration of the contract between the operator of the shelter and the city of New York.
Stavisky’s bill is in direct response to the recent and controversial uptick of repurposed hotels being used as homeless shelters. In Stavisky’s district, the city came under fire for turning the former Pan American hotel on Queens Boulevard in Elmhurst into a family shelter without supplying functioning kitchens in each unit.
“Denying the residents of New York homeless shelters access to working kitchens is wrong,” Stavisky said. “A parent should be able to provide their family with a healthy, sustainable meal instead of resorting to fast food and snacks as many Pan Am residents were forced to do. I am calling on my colleagues in the state Senate and Assembly to pass this legislation to ensure our shelters are more humane and habitable places.”
Stavisky has remained a steadfast advocate in calling for improving the conditions at the Pan American as well as hotels across New York City. In response, the Pan Am is currently installing kitchens in each of the units. She has repeatedly called on the owners of the hotel, Mayor Bill de Blasio and the city Department of Homeless Services to ensure that necessities such as functioning kitchens and play areas for children are installed in the hotel before they are repurposed and turned into shelters.
“Elmhurst United commends Senator Stavisky for her continued support in ensuring shelter providers are held accountable in providing the agreed-upon services and living quarters,” the advocacy group said in a collective statement. “This proposed law aligns New York state with New York City law requiring each unit to be equipped with the basic essentials of a cooking facility. Since 2014, the city has committed to decreasing the number of homeless, cease using hotels as shelters and ensuring that families are placed within their home base. Not one of these commitments have been met. Additionally, it is disgraceful that with billions spent to address this problem that the number of homeless continues to grow exponentially with no curtailment in sight.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr