Oct. 2, 2017 By Nathaly Pesantez
Elected officials and community leaders were caught off guard last week when they learned that the Best Western on the border of Sunnyside/Long Island City is now a homeless shelter.
Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan (D- Long Island City) said she was “outraged and disappointed” upon learning last week that the Best Western at 38-05 Hunters Point Ave. was “yet another hotel in Queens” to become a homeless shelter.
“I do not feel that our community was given adequate notice, nor time to prepare for this development,” Nolan wrote in a Sept. 29 letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio.”My office received no information as to which company will be managing the shelter, nor for how long the shelter will be operating.”
Similarly, Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) said he was disappointed that his office and the community did not have a say in or knowledge of the decision.
“While we can never demonize the homeless, many of which are children, I share in my community’s frustration of the process by which this decision was made,” Van Bramer said in a statement.
A spokesperson for the Department of Homeless Services said that the agency began using the site as a shelter on Sept. 26, the same day that the agency notified the community, including elected officials and the community board, about the site. The agency said that they are using all 82 rooms at the Hunters Point Ave. location to house homeless New Yorkers while the city works to phase out cluster sites (private apartments] as priority.
“We are using commercial hotels like this location as a bridge to provide shelter to homeless New Yorkers, including families with children, who would otherwise be turned out into the street,” the DHS spokesperson said.
Denise Keehan-Smith, chairperson of Community Board 2, said that the DHS informed the board on Tuesday that the site was opened as an emergency shelter and bringing in families the following day. According to the DHS, the city places people in homeless shelters under emergency situations when there is not enough shelter capacity on a given night.
“I get that the DHS needs shelter for the people,” Keehan-Smith said. “But it seems like we are becoming inundated with more than a fair share of homeless shelters, and I think that its very disappointing.” Keehan-Smith added that the DHS has told the board that they would get plenty of notification in advance regarding hotels as shelters.
Assemblywoman Nolan said the decision to open a new shelter was surprising given de Blasio’s plan to phase out homeless shelters and cluster sites, and criticized the city’s lack of transparency in the process which may cause opposition to build within the community.
“No one wants to see children homeless, but the administration’s approach makes it impossible for a community to accept a shelter,’ Nolan wrote. “They become a source of resentment for the communities in which they are placed…there is also the uncertain, possible negative impact on the residential areas in which they are located.”
The DHS, however, said that the community can have a say in the process by identifying locations where shelters would best fit in their area via community board meetings.
Keehan-Smith said that a representative from the DHS will be at the upcoming Community Board 2 meeting, which will be held at Sunnyside Community Services at 6:30 pm on Oct. 5.
The Hunters Point Avenue site, along with two other commercial hotels used as homeless shelters in Community Board 2, will be phased out as shelters by 2023 in accordance with the mayor’s plan, according to the DHS.