Nov. 10, 2014 By Michael Florio
Six months ago the Westway Motel, located at 71-11 Astoria Blvd, was an emergency shelter where up to 35 homeless families were sent for just a one night stay if the city’s permanent shelters were full.
However, that changed on July 8, when the Department of Homeless Services transformed it into a 121-family shelter permitting extended stays. The DHS claimed it was an emergency—which allowed it to convert the facility from an ‘overnight’ facility to a ‘long-term’ shelter.
The DHS, however, was only granted a six-month “emergency contract” to allow it to permit long term stays. The contract ends in December and the DHS wants to keep it as a permanent shelter for extended stays, a spokesman for the DHS said in an e-mail.
As part of the process to convert it into a long-term facility, the DHS said it would be scheduling a public hearing. The date of the hearing will be announced closer to the time.
The initial “emergency contract” caught local politicians off guard in July and claimed that they had not been notified prior to the change.
This neighborhood’s elected officials wrote a joint letter to Gilbert Taylor, the Commissioner of the Department of Homeless, 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.
This time, however, after being made aware of the DHS’ plan to create a permanent shelter, Councilman Costa Constantinides and Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas said they do not want to comment on it at this time.
The Westway Motel has sparked a heated reaction from residents in recent months.
“The [de Blasio] administration completely rolled over the community,” said Rose Marie Poveromo, president of the United Community Civic Association. “We are angered by the lack of communication demonstrated by the mayor, the administration, and the DHS.”
Poveromo and the United Community Civic Association held a town hall meeting in July shortly after the agency permitted extended stays.
Hundreds of residents were in attendance, with the vast majority wanting the shelter gone. They were concerned about crime and where the children of the shelter would attend school.
However, despite the community’s concern, Deputy Inspector Kevin Maloney, the commanding officer at the 114th Police Precinct, said last month that the police had not seen an uptick in crimes in that vicinity since July.
Residents did not believe Maloney’s report with one man, George Pefanis, becoming irate. He claimed that the shelter is bringing down Astoria’s quality of life, as he has witnessed residents of the shelter asking for money, cigarettes and urinating in public.
Poveromo said that the United Community Civic Association will be conducting its second town hall meeting in early December. The event will take place at the Museum of Moving Image, with an exact time and date still to be determined.
The DHS, meanwhile, said it is trying to combat the big jump in homeless. There are 57,000 homeless people in the system, including 24,000 children, according to the agency.
“DHS has a moral and legal obligation to shelter those eligible,” the agency wrote in a statement. “We continue to meet that obligation day in and day out.”