2018-03-21 / Front Page

Homeless Services Meeting Held In Blissville

By Thomas Cogan
Everyone who knows about recent developments in Blissville fully expected that the meeting there last Thursday with the Department of Homeless Services would be loud and bitter, and so it was.  Blissville is a small and very old section of Long Island City that has evolved so that it finds itself situated in a roughly triangular area bounded by Calvary Cemetery, the Queens-Midtown Expressway and Newtown Creek.  The resident population has always been small but during last year and this, the population has been increased with the addition by the DHS of homeless persons, which the agency has put into hotels it has taken over for that purpose. 

The first of these hotels was the City View Inn, 33-17 Greenpoint Ave., which was assigned homeless families with children, a move that caused little reaction.  Shortly after, when the Best Western Hotel at 38-05 Hunters Point Ave. also became a homeless shelter, it quickly provoked anger.  City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer told the October meeting of Community Board 2 that Mayor Bill De Blasio had ordered the move without giving Blissville prior notice, just as he had with City View.  It was high-handed and left everyone wondering why the hotels near this small residential section had been picked out as proper spots for the homeless. 

In late January, the homeless families at City View were moved out in force one Wednesday and replaced with homeless men only.  By late February it became apparent that the Fairfield Inn, 52-34 Van Dam St., was being prepared to take in the homeless.  At the CB 2 meeting on the first day of March a parade of outraged Blissville residents said that once again this was a mayoral coup.  By then though, an announcement had been made that in the middle of the month the DHS would hold a meeting at St. Raphael’s Church, 35-20 Greenpoint Ave., to confer with Blissville about short- and long-term plans for the homeless now living there.

Before the meeting began, many protesters paraded outside the church, with signs displaying their indignation, if to nobody else than car and truck drivers coming up from the expressway.  On many signs was the message that they were “blindsided” by the mayor, being given no notice about moving the homeless into City View Inn; and as a reward for their stoical patience they were blindsided twice again.  “Being blindsided” was as accurate a theme as any for the meeting that followed.

Lori Boozer, coordinator of DHS’s external affairs, opened the meeting by calling Councilman Van Bramer to the stage of St. Raphael’s auditorium.  He stressed his compassion for the homeless and fixed his anger on Mayor De Blasio and DHS Commissioner Steve Banks.  He said the mayor’s plan to house a number of homeless persons in any community that is similar to the number the community “produces” is not in sync with Blissville, since those three hotels combined would house about four times as many as the total of homeless that Blissville has reportedly produced.  The mayor’s long-term plan is to build shelters for the homeless where they can get training and find their way back into normally-sheltered society  For Blissville, that has meant setting up three hotel/shelters within a seven-block radius in seven months, Van Bramer said.

DHS’s Jocelyn Carter introduced Jackie Bray as the best person to explain what the mayor is doing to address homelessness.  Bray said De Blasio’s first move has been to begin closing cluster-site apartments, mainly in the Bronx.  The building of new-type shelters is next on the agenda.  These would have training and amenities to make them a far cry from the flophouses they have thus far been.  Meanwhile, the shelters devised from the conversion of commercial hotels would be put on an expiration schedule and closed gradually, beginning in 2021, with the intention of having them all closed during the following year. 

Bray said she is proud of the adult family centers, such as the Fairview Inn is intended to be.  Everyone in them is over 18 and there is room for some young and old couples who have found themselves unable to afford the city’s rents.  The Fairview Inn on Van Dam Street is, like other hotel/shelters in the current program, oriented to the community board in which it is located; in this case, Community Board 2.  A Q & A statement about the Fairview describes it as designed to “serve 154 adult families with priority offered to those who have roots in the Queens Community Board 2.”

It continues:  “This will provide those who previously resided in Community District 2 before becoming homeless the opportunity to remain closer to their communities and support networks, including the anchors of life that we all rely on, like schools, jobs, healthcare, family, friends and houses of worship as they get back on their feet.  On-site services will include case management, housing placement assistance, health and wellness services and employment counseling.  Off-site service linkages will include primary healthcare, substance use treatment, vocational training, employment placement, GED instruction, conflict mediation and legal services.”

Thus, written explanations are now offered as consultation with the community, but the community has by this time seen DHS’s true lack of it.  Previously the agency, realizing how unaware the community was, converted three hotels to shelters and presented the last of them in departmental literature for the community to read if ever it happened to come across any copies.  Such actions as that, angry locals coming to the microphone said, are a mockery of consultation.

Another matter, mentioned briefly above but restated as what might be called the second conversion of the City View Inn, further emphasizes the agency’s disregard of the people it is affecting, in the community and in shelters.  At the beginning of 2018, the DHA had developed a new policy for City View that would change its population from homeless mothers and children to homeless men.  As a result, on Wednesday, January 24, children living in City View went to school and came home in the afternoon to find that they and their mothers had to pack their belongings and be transported immediately to different quarters, to be determined by the DHS, which by that time was ready to move homeless men into the hotel to replace them.

The abruptness of change was owing to a botched communications move.  DHS had planned to send the notice of removal to the mothers and children of City View on Monday, January 22, which would have been stark enough anyway—but, as one DHS official was forced to explain later, the notice was unfortunately delayed for two days, being delivered Wednesday with the simultaneous order that everyone had to leave at once. The evening news broadcasts had a fine time with the story and at the meeting, DHS representatives admitted it was a regrettable error.  

Bray said she would take away the impression that Blissville is passionate and engaged.  With only two or three speakers from the audience accepting the programs for the homeless, passion was exercised to condemn what the DHS was doing and the way it went about it.  It was that way till the very end, when the last person at the microphone asked Bray if the coming of the homeless to the Fairview Inn “is a done deal.”  When she said yes, a man nearby cried, “We’ll fight you!”




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