July 20, 2014 By Michael Florio
Local politicians are outraged that the Department of Homeless Services has established a permanent homeless shelter on Astoria Boulevard without notifying them.
The DHS has transformed the Westway Motor Inn, which previously provided emergency overnight stays, to a permanent shelter. The shelter, located at 71-11 Astoria Blvd, began catering to 121 families on July 8, after the DHS approved a proposal put forward by social service provider Woman in Need (WIN).
The inn had previously operated as an emergency shelter, where homeless people were only sent for one night if the city’s permanent shelters were full. The maximum number permitted in the emergency shelter were 36 families per night.
Local politicians claim that they were blindside by DHS’s sudden change. They say that they were not told about it until July 9.
Councilman Costa Constantinides, Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas, Congressman Joseph Crowley and State Senator Jose Peralta wrote a joint letter (see below) to the Commissioner of the Department of Homeless Services Gilbert Taylor expressing their outrage about the lack of notification about the shelter as well as potential problems such as the increased burden on schools and other city services.
Within the letter it states that while they appreciate that DHS is legally required to find all families’ shelter, they feel the surrounding community should have been told.
“The agency’s failure to provide any notification to the people currently living in the area who are impacted by its implementation is unacceptable,” the letter says.
The politicians said that they should have had an opportunity to receive feedback from the community, and provide input.
However, the DHS said in a statement that it began notifying the community by phone during the first week of July.
The elected officials expressed concern that the neighboring schools and hospitals might be overburdened by the addition of 121 families.
“Recent population growth in our communities has stretched the capacity of the schools and hospitals in our area,” the joint letter reads. “We anticipate that the addition of more than 100 homeless families will have a significant effect on local social services that are already overburdened.”
The DHS, meanwhile, reports that the number of homeless people throughout the city has reached all time highs. The city reported that were 54,439 homeless people last week. Almost 75 percent of those individuals are families with children, and 45 percent are children under the age of 18.
“It is regrettable that in the midst of an increase in the number homeless families entering shelters, our partners in government choose to distort the facts and plan protests in front of men, women, and children with nowhere else to turn,” the DHS said in a statement. “We hope others find it in themselves to embrace these families with children as we help them to rebuild their lives.”
The DHS’ announcement comes one month after it announced plans to provide a shelter for more than 200 homeless families at the Pan American Hotel, located at 7900 Queens Blvd. Hundreds of protestors came out against it.
The United Community Civic Association is holding a town hall meeting to discuss the Westway Motor Inn homeless shelter on Wednesday, July 23, at 6:30 p.m. at the Museum of the Moving Image at 36-01 35th Ave.