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Residents want homeless shelter gone, expressed concerns about crime and schools

Museum-462x3462July 24, 2014 By Michael Florio

Hundreds of residents turned up at the Museum of Moving Image last night to voice their outrage about the opening of a 121-family homeless shelter at the Westway Motor Inn on Astoria Blvd.

Many residents claimed that they were caught off guard by its opening, and were concerned that the shelter would be a magnet for crime and would continue to stretch the neighborhood’s overcrowded schools.

While the Westway Motor Inn has acted as an overnight shelter in recent times, this is the first time the homeless will be staying on site long term.

A big issue for many was that the homeless would bring drugs and violence to the neighborhood.

One East Elmhurst mother said that she was afraid that her 15-year-old son would be exposed and pressured to use drugs. Another woman, Antonia Papadouris, who lives next to the shelter, said she has found hypodermic needles in her driveway and has noticed marijuana smoke coming from around the shelter.

Papadouris claimed that a teenager from the shelter pulled a knife on her father-in-law last Friday after he asked a group of teenagers to be quiet at around 11pm. However, the father of the teenager—who lives in the shelter–disputed this claim at the meeting.

Captain John Travaglia, with the 114th precinct, confirmed that a police report was filed on the matter but did not comment as to the validity of the allegation.

However, representatives of the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) tried to reassure the community that their safety would not be put in jeopardy.

They stated that shelter residents have to be inside the facility by 9 pm each night. Furthermore, the shelter is monitored—by security guards and surveillance cameras–to ensure that there is no criminal activity brought onto or off the site.

Bonnie Stone, CEO of Woman in Need (WIN), the social service group that put forward the proposal to bring the shelter to the area, said that there are always three security guards on site at any time.

Meanwhile, Lorraine Stephens, First Deputy Commissioner with DHS, said that those people who have security concerns should alert DHS–and that the agency would work to fix them.

But many attendees were not comforted by these statements.

Shouts of “you guys are crooks,” “liars,” and “no one respected us,” rang from the audience throughout the night.

Rose Marie Poveromo, president of the United Community Civic Association, which organized the meeting, often had to ask the crowd to quiet down and show respect. Two men, in separate instances, got so outraged that they had to be escorted out of the building.

Another hot button issue dealt with schooling– and where the children from the shelter would go.

The shelter currently houses 129 children. Of that number, DHS said that 40 percent range from 1-to 5-years in age; 39 percent are from ages six through 12; with 21 percent being from 13 to 17 years of age.

The children who are from ages 1 to 5 years will be educated at a day-care center located at the shelter. Meanwhile, the 13-17 year olds will continue to go to the schools where they are currently enrolled throughout the city.

However, the children between 6 and 13 years are likely to go to public schools in the neighborhood. “We estimate that seven to eight children per grade will find places in the schools in this community,” Stone said.

But residents felt that this number was too high and that it would put pressure on the neighborhood’s overcrowded schools. They complained that the schools are already too stretched.

Some residents thought the whole concept of a shelter was a big waste of money after they were told that it costs about $100 a day to house a family.

“Wouldn’t it be easier to pay their rent?” said one man.

One resident complained that taxpayers have to foot the high tab and asked whether the shelter was just for US citizens or legal immigrants. When the DHS refused to answer, many in the crowd were upset.

“I think you got your answer, Sir,” Poveromo said.

The community as well as local politicians—from Councilman Costa Constantinides, Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas, State Senators Jose Peralta and Mike Gianaris—wanted to know how the DHS was able to convert Westway Motor Inn into a more permanent shelter without notifying anyone.

The hotel previously offered one-night services, but transformed into a long-term shelter on July 8th, without alerting the community or officials.

However, the DHS claimed that it was forced into creating a “[long-term] emergency shelter” since the number of homeless families in New York City has grown significantly in recent times. Furthermore, the DHS claimed that it was running out of spaces for homeless families to go.

westwayastoriapostThe DHS, according to officials, is able to operate the shelter in its present form for up to six months.  To continue to operate past that period, it would need the community’s approval.

“If they want to extend [the shelter] past six months they have to go through a process, and different agencies, including a public hearing,” said State Sen. Jose Peralta.

However, the local politicians are trying to nip it in the bud now—before it starts going through the process.

“This is being shoved down our throat whether we like it or not,” Assemblywoman Simotas said. “We are not going to stop until we hold people accountable; that is the promise I make.”

Simotas said that they will try to stop it from becoming a permanent shelter.

The politicians have already sent a letter to the Commissioner of DHS Gilbert Taylor expressing their concerns.

Camille Rivera, Deputy Commissioner with DHS, said the agency had received the letter and is working on a response.

However, Rivera asked for people to be more compassionate.

“These are people who are coming to us at the lowest point of their lives, in need of help,” Rivera said. “I understand that there is a lot of nervousness and fear from the community, and we want to work with you to create a plan.”

Nancy Silverman, an Astoria resident and community board member, stated that many residents are in favor of the shelter.

“We are all one, or a couple of paychecks, or one accident away from being homeless,” she said. “We understand it is difficult for communities when a shelter comes in, but it has to go somewhere.”

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28 Comments

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The People

I undertand the frustration here, but I don’t get the sense of entitlement some people have. Your family lived here for 46 years? What about the people who were there before your family? They probably didn’t want you in the neighborhood either. But you came and you settled and it was fine. “Move it to another neighborhood”…don’t you think there are other people in other neighborhoods who feel just like you do? That they’ve been there for decades and don’t want to see “their” neighborhood devalued by a shelter? What makes you so special? This is happening all over Queens.

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no name

there 2 homeless shelters within 8 and 10 blocks from westway….i think Deblasio (mr. come late to meetings) can find a shelter in his neighborhood.

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JM

I can understand people are desperate and some need temporary shelter but that should be it, without any possibility of permanent shelter. Permanent shelters will ruin the neighborhood. We can’t let homeless people ride the M60 bus and walk around East Elmhurst trying to sleep in backyards and alleys when the shelter becomes full. Look at the shelters in Manhattan they have been around for ages. We can’t have that here.

Hopefully a compassionate real estate developer comes along, demolishes that nasty building and builds middle-income housing for honest working class/middle class families and people. Otherwise our city will constantly target this place to be a shelter, halfway house, or whatever unwanted facility is needed.

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MARIA

I don’t think this homeless shelter belongs in Astoria. I have been watching the people that have resided in the homeless shelter for the past few days. I hate to admit it but they are trash, drug addicts etc. they walk around the good residential areas begging for money. Unfortunately these people are ignorant and illiterate. THEY KNOW HOW TO USE AND ABUSE THE SYSTEM AND US HARD WORKING PEOPLE HAVE TO SUPPORT THEM. IT SAD TO SAY THAT POVERTY GROWS IGNORANCE. I do empathize with the young children, these parents have children only so that they can receive money from the government. These parents should not be allowed to have children, the government should pass a law, which states whomever is receiving public assistance or any funds from the government, should not be allowed to have any more children. since they cannot afford to support these children on their own. These mothers have children from various men. they have no respect for themselves. they raise their children to be just a ignorant and illiterate as they are. they don’t use the system in a smart way to better themselves. they don’t educate or force education on their children for a better quality of life. Tell the Rabbi that owns this hotel that he can take all these homeless people and keep them by his neighborhood. As far as security there currently isn’t any. take this trash and place them somewhere else. or let them move in with the concerned owner of the west way Hotel. which was previously a hotek for dug addicts and hookers. then this rabbi goes home and prays and pretends he is religious what a joke

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Gregory

“Put it some place else” or “it does not belong here” just doesn’t cut it. There is a need and the space is available. If I read that the hotel was in the process of becoming a school, residence, or even a better hotel and the city is preventing it from happening and pushing for a homeless shelter it would be a different story. The city is merely looking at what is available and taking the steps necessary to house these homeless people.

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Maria P.

Every hotel/motel has the potential of becoming a homeless shelter in NYC when there is a need. This is especially true for older/run down hotels which are not profiting due to newer and more accommodating hotels being built. As long as hotel owners see a more secure/or profound profit with city agencies without making any major changes/upgrades they will continue to make deals with the city. The Westway Motor Inn has been a fixture in this neighborhood and has had it share of on going issues with residents for years . It has been an over night shelter for the last two years and I am not surprised the city/hotel owners would like to fully operate it as a shelter. This was not a 4 or 5 star hotel that they are out of blue planning on calling a homeless shelter. Unless the hotel is sold or renovated to attract today’s paying clientele it will be an on going issue with the community. Taking all these factors under consideration and the cities need to house homeless families I support their decision.

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Anonymous

How much more do we need in Astoria. Rikers! ConEd plant! DEP! FIND ANOTHER PLACE TO PUT OTHER CITY SERVICES!!! WE ARE FULL

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no name

you forgot the waste sewage treatment plant, la guardia airport…noise and air pollution dont forget helicopters to and from airport. Rikers traffic,busses vans and the officers, in addition to helicopters circling Rikers. Also verizon depot 30 vans to and fro. Empire merchants constant tractor trailers. Private bus depot, petroleum truck depot……

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Angela K

I must say this homeless shelter is a bunch of BS. It’s just another income producing project for these politicians, the WIN organization and the owner of the Motel. No one really cares for these people. Instead of teaching these woman to use birth control and practice safe sex…. They are teaching them to be the leeches of society. The fact that the WIN organization plasters all over their website that they are for safe and clean living situations is hysterical. The maximum capacity allowed in a hotel room is 4 people. They put 5-7 people in one room. There is about 2 beds per room so a total of 4 people can sleep in those beds…. Were do the rest sleep? On the floor? And the fact that they have the nerve to charge $100 a night…. That’s not even Manhattan prices…. You can get a one bedroom with a living room, a full kitchen and bath for $3000 a month in Manhattan. This shelter does not fit in the dynamics of this community. It is the white elephant in the room. It does not belong here. They must leave ASAP!!!!! Any way you put it… This hotel is a negative…. Not a positive !!

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Toni

I am very familiar with this area of East Elmhurst. The area is residential and there are businesses nearby which the families from the neighborhood and shelter do/can utilize via a short walk or transportation. There are some restaurants, a supermarket and delis, an elementary school with a playground, barber shop, hair/nail salon etc. on 21st Ave between 79 Street and 75 street (a very short walk from the shelter :)). The Jackson Hole is a great diner in that area. There are also bus routes on Ditmars blvd (q69) and Astoria Blvd (q19) which people can use to travel to and from. The bus is a very short ride (about 5 mins/ the streets in that area skip from 70th street to Hazen/50 Street so some may walk it) to the N/Q trains and other places to eat and shop. I just wanted to share that the families were not placed in the middle of nowhere. There are indeed places that the neighborhood can use and go about their daily lives. I am sure the business’ benefit and will grow to accommodate the neighborhood.

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Ditmars Blvd business owner

yes the business really appreciate the daily shoplifting the residents of the shelter are doing on a daily basis-

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no name

Yes the unit is 5 feet from Astoria Blvd. Its an accident waiting to happen. In addition the new speed traffic laws do not apply. I doubt thosed living there are thrilled at both commercial and all traffic coming down at 45/50 miles per hour.

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Brian

I just don’t get the $100 a day part of it. Why not just rent them an apartment? I wonder how much the owner of the hotel donated to the mayor to get such a deal

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no name

the owner will be getting $3000 per month per unit multiply that by 180 units. The management company will get $20 million. The facility houses 4 persons in a 30 sq ft space. somebody is making money.

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Alex

Seriously .. Have you driven by the Westway Motor Inn BEFORE it was a homeless shelter ?

It was a Hooker shelter .. At least now it will have better cameras .. and Its not really in Astoria Proper .. Its kinda Elmhurst ..

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Kathleen

We in this neighborhood have been asked to carry more than our share of the burden of the “not in my back yard projects”. We have Laguardia airport, Rikers Island, Sewage Treatment Plant, Bowery Bay Pollution(odor). Why are we the only neighborhood who can’t say NO as the city continues to dump on us.

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kev

Please don’t put “hypodermic needles” and “marijuana smoke” in the same sentence. Everybody smells cannabis everywhere. That being said the hypodermic needle problem disgusts me.

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Peter B.

I am really disgusted at the fear driven, heartlessness of those opposing this shelter. These people need help. Most are families, many of the women and children are homeless because they are fleeing abusive relationships. And most of these people actually work and are homeless temporarily, but desparately need this help till they find a place of their own. If you are opposed to having a homeless shelter in your neighborhood then instead of wasting your time condeming victims, fight to create a society where we don’t have homeless people. For instance increase the minimum wage so working a job will actually cover the rent. I sincerely hope none of the people opposing this face such a crisis in their lives that they too need the support of a shelter, but do not forget the old saying: there but for the grace of God go I.

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Rita Armstrong

That Motel has been a flop house for decades. Families living there are less likely to be violent than the hourly patrons who have been going there for years. It is the kind of Motel that had bulletproof glass at the reception area and rented out porn. How do I know this? I was looking for affordable hotels for my extended family to stay at for a local wedding, so we stopped by every one close by…. yeah not a pleasant experience.

The homeless need to stay somewhere. The biggest negative about this location is the lack of public transportation, so if they are trying to find and get to work, it will be difficult.

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Anna Par

We own a home here. My husbands parents have been here for 46 years, now we live here and want to raise our kids here. Why devalue one of the better neighborhoods that’s are still here. Why ruine the good name. We do NOT want the shelter here. We already see sketchy people walking around our house and are concerned. If anyone is for it, I would like to coordinate another meet up and speak out against this shelter. Tell your friends and neighbors in the neighborhood and let’s stand up for our community and protect our investments. We should NOT be force out

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Rosemarie Nidivich

I do NOT want this shelter in Astoria!!! I grew up in this neighborhood and my parents still live there!!! Move the shelter to another neighborhood!!! My parents and others invested in their home and in the neighborhood to keep it safe for over 50 years and I don’t want any shelter bringing it down.

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