2016-03-02 / Features

Verve Nerve: Hundreds Of Shelter 911 Calls

BY LIZ GOFF

Crime statistics released last week by NYPD officials clearly demonstrate how criminal activity is seeping through cracks in the management of a Long Island City homeless shelter and into the Dutch Kills community.

Capt. Peter Fortune, Commanding Officer of the 114th Precinct, presented the startling statistics before a panel of local lawmakers and representatives from the FDNY, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office, Community Board 1, the Department of Homeless Services (DHS), and Acacia Network, management coordinator for Pam’s Place, a homeless shelter located in the former Verve Hotel at 40-03 29th Street in Long Island City.

Fortune told the panel that officers at the 114th Precinct have responded to more than 300 calls to the 911 system in the last two months. Callers reported criminal, nuisance and other conditions involving residents inside the shelter and on the street.

Dutch Kills Civic Association President Thea Romano called the February 26 meeting following a call by police officials for increased security at the shelter. NYPD statistics show that shelter security placed 225 of those calls. The remaining 125 911 calls were from local residents and merchants reporting criminal activity or other conditions involving shelter residents.

“Many of the calls from the shelter were ‘aided’ requests for an ambulance or medical assistance for residents,” a law enforcement source said. “There were a number of calls involving disputes and other conditions that required police intervention.” Statistics show police arrested 10 to 12 residents as a result of those calls, the source said.

Romano said she was startled to learn how many times police have responded to calls involving shelter residents. “It was clearly time to bring this information to the attention of Acacia and city officials in front of our politicians,” Romano said.

“Our residents are forced to call 911 when they catch shelter residents having sex in laundry rooms at local apartment complexes, and when they stand in the center of traffic on 29th Street and 41st Avenue, exposing themselves to motorists for money,” Romano said.

Our local merchants call police to break up disputes between residents inside their stores, they call when they catch the women stealing off their shelves and when they harass customers for a handout,” Romano said.

“Acacia has repeatedly said they have security guards patrolling the neighborhood in marked vehicles, to maintain quality of life and prevent criminal activity by shelter residents. Where are these patrols when the women are huddled in our driveways smoking pot and doing drugs? Where are they when the women enter our private apartment complexes to engage in sexual activity with men they pick up at Queens Plaza? And why don’t they stop residents who solicit sex on local subway stations?” Romano said.

“Dutch Kills residents reached out to help the residents as soon as the shelter opened,” Romano said. “Myself and others volunteered to serve Thanksgiving dinner to residents. People have taken clothing and coats from their closets and handed them to the residents. We accepted this shelter without bias or hesitation based on promises made by city officials and Acacia. We were duped, and we are now demanding accountability on their part.”

CB1 Chair Joseph Risi said he is optimistic that the meeting will help bring improved security measures to the shelter. “The board was assured that the shelter would not have a negative impact on the community,” Risi said. “I think now there is going to be a much closer system in place between homeless services and the shelter.”

A shelter census released by Acacia shows that 87 clients have a history of substance abuse, 89 clients suffer from a form of mental illness, 42 of the women are employment ready, 32 women are employed, 93 clients are in mental health treatment and 56 are “housing ready.”

Romano said Dutch Kills residents want to know how many of the women are taking advantage of programs designed to help them transition to a new life. “Acacia hasn’t been able to give us that information,” Romano said.

Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan was incensed by Acacia’s failure to provide adequate security for the shelter. Nolan said the Borden Avenue Homeless Shelter, located in her district, has helped to transition hundreds of men. “Are you kidding?” Nolan said. “The Borden Avenue Shelter has housed 400 men at a time for more than 30 years, and it has not even come close to the number of 911 calls that this shelter has accumulated in two months.”

Romano said Dutch Kills residents were led to believe that clients would have to meet strict criteria to enter the shelter. “We were told it was a 10-month program that would prepare the women for a new life,” Romano said.

“The city lied to us. They didn’t tell us that when Mayor de Blasio signed an emergency declaration to open the shelter, he was tossing the criteria in the trash,” Romano said.

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