Queens councilman calls for closure of Glendale homeless shelter amid coronavirus crisis

Councilman Robert Holden (QNS file photo by Max Parrott)

Councilman Robert Holden is again calling for the Glendale homeless shelter at 78-16 Cooper Ave. to close immediately amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

Holden, who has adamantly opposed the shelter for months, said he’s calling for it to close in response to Comptroller Scott Stringer sending the shelter’s contract back to the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) at the end of his office’s 30-day review.

“The living situation inside 78-16 is not at all conducive with the guidelines being set forth by health professionals to stop the spread of Coronavirus,” Holden said. “Coupled with the Comptroller electing to not register the contract, it is imperative that this facility be discontinued in order to protect the health and wellbeing of all persons inside.”

Hazel Crampton-Hays, press secretary to the Comptroller, told QNS they returned the contract to “allow DHS additional time to answer our questions.”

The men’s homeless shelter officially opened on Friday, Feb. 14, and welcomed about 10 individuals, after a judge dismissed a lawsuit to stop construction. But Holden maintains that the shelter still has “numerous unresolved zoning and safety concerns with the property.”

He believes the living situation inside the building isn’t safe for residents or employees as the city attempts to stop the spread of the coronavirus. The men’s shelter has 200 beds, with dormitories consisting of up to 12 men. QNS has reached out to DHS to confirm the current number of residents and is awaiting response.

Holden also recommended that the shelter’s current residents be moved into individual hotel rooms. He believes this will help to boost the hotel industry as it struggles to navigate the COVID-19 crisis.

“This public health crisis seems likely to continue for many weeks, and our city needs to be considering all options when it comes to adding hospital beds to our current capacity,” Holden said. “Closing this facility could simultaneously protect the health of the residents and staff, help future Coronavirus patients as our health system is pushed to the limit, and boost the hotel industry at a time of financial instability.”

Holden believes if the shelter is closed, the facility on Cooper Avenue could potentially be used as a triage center for COVID-19 treatment.

In response to Holden’s call to close the shelter, Louise Barry, an organizer with the Ridgewood Tenants Union, thought about the bigger picture in terms of the city’s housing needs.

“Putting people in shelters rather than providing housing for all is having disastrous consequences, and we are seeing the danger really clearly now with the risk of COVID-19 spreading through crowded places where people can’t practice social distancing,” Barry told QNS. “This pandemic is showing us how important it is that basic needs like housing be guaranteed to all.”

But Barry added that “shutting down shelters is a short-term solution at best and we need to focus on ensuring housing for all, permanently.”

The Ridgewood Tenants Union has said in the past that they are not “pro-shelter” but are “pro-deeply affordable housing.” Their members have actively spoken out about anti-homeless views and efforts that the Glendale homeless shelter has prompted from some residents and elected officials. Barry sees Holden’s call as another example of that.

“Bob Holden is treating this crisis as an opportunity to push his own anti-homeless agenda, and his concern for the homeless comes across as totally cynical and fake. He’s got a history of focusing on the safety of people living around and not those living in it,” Barry said. “If he genuinely wanted our homeless neighbors to be safe, he’d support housing for all. Market solutions to housing don’t seem to work when there are 92,000 homeless New Yorkers.”

Barry added, “I think we’re going to be seeing a lot of politicians use this crisis to push agendas that have nothing to do with COVID-19, and we need to be careful to focus on protecting the rights and safety of every New Yorker.”

DHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.