2010-10-27 / Features

Housing Homeless Men At Westway Motel Opposed

BY RICHARD GENTILVISO

A representative for the Westway Motel said, “This is a sleepover facility. It is not a full-time facility. They come in and they spend the night. They are bused in at night and they must leave by 10 a.m.” A representative for the Westway Motel said, “This is a sleepover facility. It is not a full-time facility. They come in and they spend the night. They are bused in at night and they must leave by 10 a.m.” City Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr. said the city Department of Homeless Services has informed him that the Westway Motel is “once again going to house overnight single males”.

“I called [Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Seth] Diamond and was told it’s only going to be until January, due to overflow population,” Vallone said. But when he attempted to get the temporary deadline in writing, the wording changed to “as soon as we can”. “This is not acceptable to me,” Vallone said at the October meeting of the United Community Civic Association (UCCA).

Previously, only homeless families with children were sheltered at the Westway, 71-11 Astoria Blvd. Homeless Services refers families with children, adult families, and single adults for overnight shelter. On October 21, there were 8,164 families with children, 1,305 adult families, and 8,339 single adults seeking shelter in New York City, according to the daily census posted on www.nyc.gov.

“I’ve been getting [complaint] calls about panhandling and people on the streets,” UCCA President Rose Marie Poveromo said.

A representative for the Westway Motel said, “This is a sleepover facility. It is not a fulltime facility. They come in and they spend the night. They are bused in at night and they must leave by 10 a.m.”

The Westway Motel security director said people staying overnight had a 10 p.m. curfew. “People can walk to the corner store,” he said.

Deputy Inspector Stephen Cirabisi, commanding officer at the 114th Precinct, said, “My suggestion is if aggressive panhandling or blocking traffic is happening, you’ve got to call 311 so that we can document it.”

Vallone said, “Hopefully, we can mobilize and get [Commissioner Diamond] here to explain himself. We’re going to continue to fight this.”

Department of Corrections (DOC) Commissioner Dora Schriro told UCCA members gathered at Augustana Lutheran Church, 69-05 Ditmars Blvd., that a new plan to tear down 50 rundown, temporary housing units and build a new 1,500-bed jail on Rikers Island will reduce the number of inmate beds on Rikers by about 3,000. Schriro said there are currently about 13,500 inmates in DOC jails throughout the city.

As recently as Feb. 28, 2008, then DOC Commissioner Martin Horn told UCCA a plan to build a new jail in the Hunts Point section of The Bronx, together with a doubling of capacity at the Brooklyn House of Detention would reduce the inmate population on Rikers Island by 25 percent.

The new plan, announced by the DOC in August, eliminates the jail in The Bronx and proposes no expansion for the Houses of Detention in Brooklyn (759 beds) and Queens (467 beds). In addition, an 870-bed floating jail will be relocated to Rikers Island.

“This plan allows us to build critically needed capacity and support space faster and less expensively,” Schriro said in an Aug. 11, 2010 DOC press release. The new plan is expected to cost $660 million, a savings of $415 million from the $1.1 billion plan that included a new jail in Hunts Point.

Under the new plan, total capacity will be reduced to 16,500 beds from approximately 19,400 at present. “We’re aware that reduction is not quite as much as we had planned,” Schriro said at the UCCA meeting.

Demolition of the 50 housing units on Rikers Island (prefabricated, wood modular buildings and aluminum-framed structures with plastic canvas covers built about 20 or so years ago) will occur sometime in 2012, followed by the construction of the new 1,500-bed jail in 2013.

“We have requested that all construction materials be brought in [to Rikers Island] via water [barges],” Poveromo said. “Trucking in this community is bad to begin with. We don’t want Rikers Island–it is a heartbeat away from our community–but we’re very pleased that our new commissioner is here listening to our concerns.”

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