The people of East Elmhurst are up in arms about the conversion of the 49-room Skyway Motel at 102-10 Ditmars Blvd. into a homeless shelter. Family Center Associates, a for-profit shelter service provider, and Milton Zeloekowitz, the motel's owner, agreed on a $93-a-night rate for each of the motel's 49 rooms and last Wednesday night, 30 families moved in. On Thursday night area residents aired complaints in a hastily called meeting at a neighborhood church.
It would be easy to dismiss neighborhood complaints as expressions of snobbery and Not-In-My-Back-Yard syndrome. To do so, however, would be very much in error. The larger issue here was raised by Borough President Helen Marshall, who noted that the Skyway arrangement is the second such high-handed takeover of a Queens lodging establishment in recent weeks. A Best Western motel in South Ozone Park was also recently taken over by the city and pressed into service as a homeless shelter, an effort that has met with little success due to what Marshall claims is inadequate preparation by the city. She alleges that 310 families were moved into the Best Western with no adequate preparation made for them to cook, store food or do laundry. She further alleged that visitors drink, urinate, block driveways and behave obnoxiously. She called Ditmars Boulevard one of the nicest streets in the borough and said she was greatly concerned about the possible impact on the community of having a "welfare motel" in its midst. .
"I'm so distressed by the Best Western and the Skyway," Marshall said. "They [city agencies for the homeless] hit me twice in less than a month and it's having a terrible impact on the community." One such impact is that of the Skyway conversion on a restaurant in the hotel. The restaurant's owner had recently signed a 10-year lease to operate. Now the owner fears her efforts will be for naught. "Who will want to come to a homeless hotel?" Marshall said she was asked by the young owner. Complaints of children at the shelter disturbing dining patrons have already been received.
The people of East Elmhurst and South Ozone Park are not without compassion, and we like to think we have a reasonable share of it ourselves. We agree fully with the regulation that states that the city must find a bed for anyone who walks into it Emergency Housing Services offices by 10 p.m. We also agree that filing drawers for the infants and floor space for everyone else is not adequate shelter for families in need of such assistance. There are solutions to the housing problem, as there are to any other dilemmas besetting New York City. There are ways of addressing the problem, too numerous for listing here. There are ways of finding emergency shelter beds for families in need of assistance. None of these need infringe on the residents of neighborhoods who have made their homes and businesses their major investments and assets.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has stated that finding shelter for the city's homeless population is the responsibility of us all and that every neighborhood must share in providing accommodations for those who find themselves needing such assistance. We agree. But we are also completely in agreement with Marshall that such shelter must not be imposed arbitrarily with no regard for the impact it will have on property values and quality of life.