ELMHURST — A rally against the controversial Pan Am homeless shelter drew an estimated 550 residents Tuesday night and participants avoided the angry chants heard at two earlier protests against the emergency housing that opened in a former hotel.
In advance of the planned rally, the city's Department of Homeless Services had arranged to bus about 230 homeless children and adults to the movies to "remove the kids from the hatred that potentially could be exhibited," a spokesman said.
This decision came in the wake of a pair of raucous protests last month during which protesters shouted "get a job," and some shelter residents countered "Go back to China."
About 230 children and adults were brought to a theater in Jamaica to see "How to Train Your Dragon 2." DHS paid for the movie, and the spokesman said "it’s not unusual for sites to have recreational activities."
Tuesday's protest, though, was much calmer than the previous two. Those who spoke stressed that they were not going to direct their anger toward the shelter residents.
Many asked the estimated 550 people in attendance to not yell at the people living behind them. One shelter resident who remained at the site shouted "Speak English" during the protest, but ralliers did not respond.
Instead, activists demanded accountability from the city, asked for more schools and suggested affordable housing to give homeless residents places to live.
"Warehousing does not solve the homeless situation," said one speaker. "We must direct our anger towards a flawed process."
DHS Commissioner Gilbert Taylor, who spoke with reporters earlier on Tuesday, said they are actively working on ways to reduce the number of homeless residents in the shelter system — which includes more than 54,000 people and more than 11,000 families.
“People, when they come to shelter, it’s because they really have a compelling need, and because they really have no other option,” he said.
Since he became commissioner, Taylor said DHS has begun working on ways to reduce the number of homeless residents, including doubling the number of Homebase offices in the city.
This service assists residents with family or tenant/landlord mediation, emergency rental assistance and offers job training and household budgeting.
The agency is also looking at ways to connect homeless residents with vacant NYCHA units, and they are also in talks with the state to find a way to offer a subsidy to working families in the shelter system who may need a jumpstart to find permanent housing, Taylor said.
As of last week, there were more than 180 families living at the Pan Am, which opened without notice in the beginning of June as an emergency shelter.
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Last week, the city announced new plans to turn a motel in East Elmhurst into a permanent shelter for families and convert a former Daytop Village rehab facility in Rockaway into a shelter for adult families.
“The foundation over the last six months has been created, and we’re trying to put all the pieces in place,” to reduce the homeless census, Taylor said, therefore reducing the need for more shelters.
Until then, though, he asked that communities show compassion and patience towards their new neighbors.
“We’re attempting to really kind of reset the button and to get a sense of exactly how we can have a different conversation with communities that are hosting us,” he said.
"It’s really going to require some patience... and some real understanding.”