Shelters continue to open in Queens neighborhoods
by Jacob Henry
Jan 07, 2021 | 2950 views | 0 0 comments | 96 96 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Alfonso Johnson speaks outside of hotel turned into a homeless shelter in Elmhurst.
Alfonso Johnson speaks outside of hotel turned into a homeless shelter in Elmhurst.
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The city is opening a number of new homeless shelters in Queens, stretching from Elmhurst and Briarwood to Jamaica and Douglaston.

It is part of the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) efforts to end the use of hotels and cluster sites to house the homeless, but local residents said the city is not taking into consideration the community’s objections to these issues.

Gerry Caliendo, an architect and Briarwood resident, said that people in the neighborhood received no notice about a new shelter at 138-50 Queens Boulevard.

“I started alerting all these property owners in the area, because nobody knew about it,” Caliendo said. “Homeowners didn’t know about it, renters didn’t know about it. Nobody knew.”

He added that the community is not against providing services for homeless people, but was concerned that the city was not taking into consideration the effects a shelter would have on a neighborhood.

“We’re talking about a major impact,” Caliendo said. “Quality of life in the neighborhood is going to change. It’s just not right, you’re destroying a community.”

Caliendo added that the shelter will “severely affect” the mom-and-pop businesses in the area.

“They’re already suffering immensely because of COVID,” Caliendo said. “If they haven’t conceded to close up already, the minute this thing opens up, it’s over.”

Meanwhile, in Elmhurst a Marriot was turned into a shelter last week for homeless people diagnosed with COVID-19.

Alfonso Johnson, who has lived across the street from the old hotel since 1975, said he received no notice from the city.

“I didn’t know anything about this until this morning,” Johnson said last week. “This is extremely problematic.”

Frank Taylor, president of the Ditmars Block Association, said bringing homeless people who tested positive for coronavirus into the area will cause the community to suffer even more.

“You put a COVID homeless shelter in an area that is the epicenter of the pandemic?” Taylor asked. “It’s not right.”

Rene Hill, former chairperson of Community Board 12, also said that her community in Jamaica is facing a similar problem, with multiple hotels being turned into homeless shelters since the start of the pandemic.

“Once they leave the shelters, where do these people go?” Hill said. “They wander around the streets and stay in the parks. Where are the programs? These people are still in the streets, but now in our communities.”

Douglaston will also receive a new 75-bed shelter exclusively for older, single women, but State Senator John Liu, Assemblyman Edward Braunstein and Councilman Paul Vallone voiced their concerns about how DHS handled the situation in a joint statement.

“We are still disappointed to see DHS adopt policies where key decisions are made without ever engaging local stakeholders and community members,” the statement read.

When Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office was reached for comment, they provided an overall outline of the homeless plan, but would not answer direct questions about how the Queens community would be impacted by the influx of shelters.

“Our data underscores that our strategies have saved lives and we’ve flattened our pandemic curve, with the majority of cases we’ve experienced over the past more than nine months now resolved,” the statement said.

The statement said the goal is to protect all New Yorkers experiencing homelessness and ensure anyone who needs healthcare can receive coverage, while implementing proper safety guidelines.

“We will continue to evaluate all factors/facts as our city works to reopen while ensuring virus rates remain low, and will of course advise New Yorkers as these plans develop and inform communities when our city is ready to take that step,” the statement said.

Caliendo wondered why these locations were picked, and suggested more suitable places for homeless shelters in Queens.

“You can put it on the edge of an industrial park where there are vacant office buildings and warehouses,” Caliendo said. “Why dead center in the middle of an emerging neighborhood?”

The city said that more than 130 commercial hotel locations are being used citywide, with more than 60 being used to combat COVID-19, which they said “has stopped the spread of the virus and saved lives.”

There are more than 12,000 adult individuals residing in these commercial hotels, according to the city.
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