‘This is not a solution at all’: Community on guard as city converts Dutch Kills hotels into shelters for homeless men during COVID-19 pandemic

Several Dutch Kills hotels are sheltering homeless men as the city deals with overcrowding in the system due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Photos courtesy of Doris Nowillo Suda

A Dutch Kills community activist has been warning her neighbors of the unmistakable rise of homeless men wandering around the neighborhood.

Doris Nowillo Suda sees them walk by her house on Crescent Street, where she has lived for 45 years, and watches them gather on side streets and playgrounds, sometimes in their pajamas. She has even stepped over a man who was sleeping on the floor of her local deli.

“I know the city has to put them somewhere after clearing them off the subways, but this is not a solution at all,” Suda said. “It’s heartbreaking that they are providing a roof, bed, and shower but absolutely no structure. We need to know, what is the plan?”

She has installed new security cameras at her home and told her 78-year-old mother she can no longer go outside by herself. But Suda is warning fellow Dutch Kills residents to be aware of the influx of homeless men staying in shelters at hastily converted hotels such as The Vue on 22nd Street, the Best Western Plus on 21st Street, and several others in the neighborhood.

“There are a lot of longtime residents who are now retired senior citizens,” Suda said. “They need to be aware of this. Substance abuse aside, they are walking around without facemasks and they don’t practice social distancing at all.”

Looking after her neighbors is something her father always did. Nicolas Nowillo was a community leader who was often called “The Mayor of Long Island City.”

The intersection of 40th Avenue and Crescent Street is co-named for her father after he was beaten to death outside of the family home by a homeless man in September 2008. Nowillo went to escort an elderly woman who called from her car after seeing the man staring menacingly at her.

“My father was a giving man and instilled that in many people,” Suda said of her father. “He was my hero.”

She also has empathy for the rising number of homeless individuals but her tight-knit community has absorbed several shelters already. Suda has been told by shelter workers that as many as seven hotels have been converted and homeless men will be living in them for six months to a year. 

“We already have done our fair share,” Suda said. “And now I have neighbors who have had their cars broken into and every evening I see more stuff happening on the Citizen App.”

A spokesman for the Department of Social Services, which oversees the Department of Homeless Services, could not confirm specific locations that the city is using to provide temporary shelter during the coronavirus pandemic due to the state’s Social Services Law.

As of May 17, DHS was tracking 817 COVID-19 cases among sheltered New Yorkers and continues to proactively relocate thousands of individuals from targeted shelters to commercial hotel settings out of an abundance of caution, including seniors and single adults from larger congregate locations, who are not sick at this time, according to the agency. 

“At DSS, we’re continuing to implement tiered strategies and proactive initiatives to combat COVID-19, protect the New Yorkers who we serve, and ensure anyone who needs it is connected immediately to care or to isolation — and the use of commercial hotels is central to this work,” DSS spokesman Isaac McGinn said.

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