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THE COURIER/Photos by Angy Altamirano

The fight continues for Elmhurst community members who continue to stand together hoping the city will again reject the proposal to convert the former Pan American Hotel into a permanent homeless shelter, which was resubmitted last month.

Local elected officials gathered with residents and community activists on Tuesday morning outside the facility to call for the rejection of Samaritan Village’s proposal that would turn the emergency shelter into a permanent one.

“We cannot address the growing homeless population at the expense of homeless families and children, or the community as a whole,” said state Senator Tony Avella, who previously voiced his opposition of the homeless shelter and its conditions. “We must look to fix this broken system.”

The emergency homeless shelter at the former hotel was supposed to close last December, yet even after facing large opposition from community members, an application was submitted to convert it into a permanent shelter under a five-year, $42 million contract with the Department of Homeless Services.

In May, the proposal was rejected by the office of Comptroller Scott Stringer due to health and safety concerns, such as fire code violations and lack of kitchen facilities in the units, but it was resubmitted on June 12 and now Stringer must decide to accept or reject it by next week.

“Mr. Stringer, as an elected official, as a civil servant and as the comptroller of the city of New York, we demand that you permanently reject the Pan Am contract,” said Anna Orjuela, a member of Elmhurst United and an Elmhurst resident for more than 30 years. “It is time for you to restore the people’s faith in our system of government and remind everyone that no one is above the law, regardless of their wealth, title or position of power.”

During Tuesday’s rally, elected officials also urged the state Assembly to pass companion legislation to state Senator Jeff Klein’s bill, which would require the city’s Planning Commission to hold a public community forum before the approval, modification or rejection of a homeless shelter site. The bill has already passed in the state Senate.

This process would allow community members to learn about the shelter and also provide their input on the idea, according to Klein.

“This situation is playing out across the city. An emergency homeless shelter moves into a neighborhood without community input and then the city seeks to make it permanent. This is simply unacceptable,” Klein said. “The residents of this community deserve to be heard, and the residents in this family shelter who live with rat infestations, improper garbage disposal and other serious health violations deserve better.”

Last week, grassroots organization Elmhurst United, which has been voicing its opposition to the shelter since day one, sent out a newsletter looking to inform local residents as to why the shelter is not suitable for the community and also encourage people to reach out to their elected officials.

In the newsletter, the group highlights issues such as School District 24 being the most overcrowded in the city, lack of a child care facility at the site, numerous FDNY violations, a façade violation, and much more.

“Everyone should care about what happens in their neighborhood,” the newsletter reads. “Speak up now before it is too late. Once the contract is signed, it becomes a much harder fight.”

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