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East Elmhurst, Rockaway Homeless Shelters Pop Up Without Notice: Officials

By Katie Honan | July 18, 2014 8:51am
 The city is currently facing a crisis in terms of homeless families, city officials said, and plans to turn the Westway into a family shelter. 
The city is currently facing a crisis in terms of homeless families, city officials said, and plans to turn the Westway into a family shelter. 
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DNAinfo/Katie Honan

QUEENS — The city is planning to turn a former motel in East Elmhurst and a drug rehabilitation center in Rockaway into homeless shelters — drawing the ire of locals and some politicians, who say they weren't given prior notice.

The move comes just weeks after the Pan Am Hotel in Elmhurst was quietly converted into a shelter for families, amid a surge in the homeless population.

There are currently more than 54,000 people in the city's shelter system, including more than 23,000 children, according to the latest statistics. The number of homeless families with children in New York City has increased by 55 percent over the last six years, climbing to 11,358 from 7,319 in May 2008.

On July 9, the city approved plans to turn the former Westway Motel, in East Elmhurst, into a permanent shelter for more than 100 families. And a former Daytop Village center on Beach 65th Street in Arverne will be converted into a shelter for more than 100 adult families, according to the Department of Homeless Services. Unlike the Pan Am Hotel, which had already served as last-resort city housing, neither location has been used as an emergency facility.

See our related coverage of the Pan Am Shelter in Elmhurst:

Pan Am Hotel Quietly Reopens as Homeless Shelter

Homeless Shelter Residents Booed, Told to 'Get a Job' at Queens Protest

A group of politicians including Rep. Joseph Crowley, Councilman Costa Constantinides, New York State Sen. Jose Peralta, and Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas sent a letter Wednesday to the commissioner of DHS expressing their concerns about the shelter plan at Westway.

“While we appreciate that DHS is legally required to provide shelter for the homeless, the agency’s failure to provide any notification to the people currently living in the area who are impacted by its implementation is unacceptable,” the group wrote.

DHS officials, however, said politicians were notified about the shelter — which has been used by the agency in various capacities since 2006 — the first week of July via telephone and in a written notice a week later.

"It is regrettable that in the midst of an increase in the number homeless families entering shelters, our partners in government choose to distort the facts and plan protests in front of men, women, and children with nowhere else to turn," a spokesman said.

A meeting about the shelter is planned for Wednesday, July 23 at the Museum of the Moving Image on 35th Avenue, starting at 6:30 p.m.

No families have moved into the Arverne facility, which will handle couples as well as adults and their parents, and DHS has “instituted a seven day advanced notification process” to inform residents of the plan, which will be operated by a group called Housing Bridge.

An official with the DHS said there are no homeless shelters on the Rockaway peninsula and asked residents, many of whom lost their homes after Hurricane Sandy, to “find it in themselves to embrace these families in their communities as we help them rebuild their lives.”

Community Board 14’s District Manager Jonathan Gaska said he was told as recently as June that the shelter would not open. But he received a letter Tuesday saying plans for the shelter were moving forward.

“There isn’t a community more impacted with facilities in the borough of Queens than Community Board 14,” he said, citing 5,000 units of public housing, four drug rehab centers, 6,000 adult-home and nursing-home beds and a number of single-room-occupancy (SRO) buildings in Rockaway Park.

“Whenever the city has a problem, they send it to Rockaway.”

Councilman Donovan Richards said the community's fight is with the city, not the homeless families — and said the hurricane-hit peninsula is already lacking in infrastructure and other resources.

“I’m certainly concerned and disappointed in the entire process of how this shelter is being placed in our community,” Richards said.

The latest shelter plans comes a month after the city's move to convert the Pan Am Hotel in Elmhurst into a shelter in June, which was approved without any notice to elected officials. 

Residents held two rallies against the shelter last month, and met with city officials at the end of June to express their frustration about the plan. 

There are currently 183 families at the Pan Am, according to the DHS.