Community leaders and activists from the East Elmhurst Corona Alliance gathered on Tuesday, Sept. 21, to protest a new homeless shelter in the neighborhood.
The building, located on 112-16 Astoria Blvd., was going to be used as a hotel, but will be converted into a shelter in the late fall of 2021 or early winter of 2022. Community District 3 — encompassing Jackson Heights, East Elmhurst and north Corona — already has seven homeless facilities in the area.
However, according to Ian Martin, the Department of Social Services (DSS) deputy press secretary, two of those shelters will be phased out in the coming weeks.
Community leaders and activists, including District Leader Hiram Monserrate, a convicted felon, called on Mayor Bill de Blasio and Department of Homeless Services (DHS) Commissioner Steven Banks to stop putting shelters in their community.
“Our community is united with one clear voice: there are too many shelters in our community,” Monserrate said.
The building will offer 140 adults and their families housing. Residents said East Elmhurst has been bombarded with shelters, though DSS said this is the first of its kind in this district.
“As part of our efforts to bring this first of its kind transitional housing facility to this community district, we are also committed to phasing out the use of one commercial hotel in this community currently serving as a COVID-19 de-densification site for DSS/DHS clients prior to the opening of the high-quality, borough-based facility at 112-16 Astoria Blvd.,” Martin said.
Though Martin said DHS/DSS are phasing-out this tactic, the Astoria Boulevard location was going to be a hotel, according to the Department of Building. Nonetheless, this shelter will serve families needing support, from young couples trying to make ends meet to an elderly couple who can’t afford rent, according to DHS/DSS.
“New Yorkers can and do experience homelessness in every community across the five boroughs, and now more than ever, we need every community to come together to address homelessness,” Martin said. “This high-quality, borough-based facility will [offer 140 adult families] the opportunity to get back on their feet safely and closer to their anchors of life in these unprecedented times.”
Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry said that his district has done enough for the homeless population in the city.
“No community, quite frankly, has been more helpful to homeless and the homeless services department, than our community,” Aubry said. “But, enough is enough. And they’ve gone and done this without any discussion on the local level and that is unacceptable.”
Martin said his office made local representatives, including Aubry, aware of this plan back in early August.
Aubry criticized incoming Mayor Eric Adams’s plan to convert hotels into mental health and homeless service shelters, particularly in the outer boroughs.
“Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, State Island: we are not the throwaway places,” Aubry said. “They couldn’t keep the homeless shelters in Manhattan because everybody raised a fuss. Well, we’re going to raise a fuss too.”
Though the incoming mayor’s plans to utilize hotels, DSS contests that they are looking to phase out these kinds of shelters.
“We have committed to phasing out the stop-gap quick-fix shelters of the past, such as commercial hotel locations and cluster sites — many of which were disproportionately located in the outer-boroughs — that did not effectively meet the needs of our clients, and replacing them with a smaller number of high-quality, borough-based shelter facilities, including in communities across the five boroughs that previously never had these resources,” Martin said.
The president of Dorie Miller cooperative building, Darlene Spurling, said she is particularly concerned about the potential crime that comes with an increased homeless population. The new shelter is right across the street from Dorie Miller and in close proximity to a new school, P.S. 419.
“We have small children in [the co-op] buildings, we have young adults like myself in these buildings,” Spurling said. “Why are we in this community, who were the epicenter of the COVID-19 crisis, now having to deal with a homeless population?”
Martin also reassured that social services are put into place, as well as 24/7 security at this new facility. The services will include the following: counseling; housing placement assistance; medical and mental health referral services; life skills workshops; and support to secure employment.
According to DHS, two security officers will be located at the entrance of the building with a minimum of eight security staff on-site per shift.