2016-09-07 / Front Page

Tempers Flare, Lawmakers File Lawsuit To Stop Shelter

By Liz Goff

Tempers flared inside the Knockdown Center in Maspeth on August 31, where more than 800 homeowners and residents came face-to-face with city officials at a public hearing on the proposed homeless shelter at a Holiday Inn Express at 59-40 55th Road in Maspeth.
Community Board 5 (CB5) sponsored the hearing to provide residents with an opportunity to voice their concerns and question officials from the city Department of Homeless Services (DHS) and local lawmakers, CB5 District Manager Gary Giordano said.
The hearing was a formal opportunity for residents to hear the specifics of the proposal, to question city officials and to testify for or against the proposal in a calm, thoughtful manner, Giordano said.
Area residents shouted down the board’s efforts to host a “calm” hearing, and turned their backs when DHS Commissioner Steve Banks rose to speak on the proposal.
“This guy turned his back on us,” a protestor named Sean said. “We’re turning our backs on him.”
City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley surprised the crowd by announcing that she has filed a lawsuit against the city to block conversion of the Holiday Inn Express from being turned into a homeless shelter.
Crowley, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, was accompanied by state Assembly Member Marge Markey, who was booed by the crowd for being a no-show at an August 11 community meeting at Martin Luther High School. Markey said she was forced to miss the meeting due to a family emergency. Markey spoke briefly before the crowd, telling them she believes the city is trying to manipulate the community in its decision to convert the hotel into a homeless shelter.
Crowley, who is joined by Markey and state Sen. Joseph Addabbo said Banks is named in the legal action.
“The lawsuit says that the Mayor of the City of New York is in clear violation of the city administrative code,” Crowley said. “The law clearly states that homeless families must be housed in shelters that have kitchens – and we all know that the Holiday Inn does not have kitchens.”
Crowley said the de Blasio administration is allowing contracts for 3,000 “cluster shelters” to expire, while DHS is going ahead with its plan to move homeless families with children into the Maspeth Holiday Inn.
“I want to make sure that you, the people of Maspeth, know that I’m doing everything in my power to make sure that we hold the Mayor accountable,” Crowley said.
Neighborhood residents said they are fearful that the Mayor will sign an emergency declaration that would clear the way for the shelter to open. “De Blasio did it before,” a protestor said. “We have no doubt that he’ll do it again.”
Officials at the Dutch Kills Civic Association said they were duped by the Mayor’s office and DHS after de Blasio signed an executive order that turned the Verve Hotel into a homeless shelter for 200 women in October, 2015.
De Blasio signed the emergency declaration on October 4, two days before administration officials notified Community Board 1, the civic group and local residents that the homeless shelter was opening in the Long Island City community, sparking protests and outrage over the lack of openness and communication between the Mayor’s office and the community.
A DHS representative told local leaders and the civics that the order was necessary, in order for the city to meet its responsibility to find housing for the women.
“They told us they were opening the shelter on a temporary basis, a six-month period – and that the facility would only admit clients that had been screened, and were ready to participate in programs designed to help them find jobs and apartments of their own,” Thea Romano, then-President of the civic group said.
“We were notified a few months later that the administration had proposed a $39.5 million contract between DHS and shelter provider, Acacia Group, to turn the facility into a permanent shelter,” Romano said. “We were shut out of the process.”
Romano said Dutch Kills was duped by the de Blasio administration in a number of ways. “First, they opened the shelter without giving us any prior notice; then they accepted clients who were not properly screened and who refused to participate in the supposedly mandated programs,” she explained. “Crime statistics skyrocketed in the area, forcing police to respond to 350 911 calls within one month,” Romano said. “Calls for criminal activity that spilled from the shelter. And then we were told that the city was ready to sign a contract that would dump this shelter in our community for good.”
Dutch Kills President George L. Stamatiades said the civic group was told early on in the process that they couldn’t win their fight to stop the shelter from opening.
“We were told it was going to happen and there was nothing we could do to stop it,” Stamatiades said. “DHS made it clear that our chance to oppose the shelter ended when de Blasio signed the emergency declaration.”
Likewise, a DHS spokesperson told the more than 1,700 protestors at the August 11 community meeting that the agency would be opening the Maspeth shelter to meet its responsibilities to the homeless – despite community opposition.
“New York City is legally obligated to provide shelter to any New Yorker who would otherwise be turned out onto the streets,” the DHS representative said. “We have met with community leaders and participated in an open community forum to continue to build a constructive dialogue around this issue. Homelessness is a citywide challenge that requires a citywide response,” the spokesperson concluded.
Protestors said they would continue to rally outside the Holiday Inn Express, waving signs and urging patrons to boycott the establishment, to defy the administration’s determined effort to open the shelter.
“No one just tells Maspeth to shut up and go away,” a protestor said. “The administration should know that by now.”

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