ELMHURST — Communities must be given at least a week's notice before new homeless shelters are opened in a neighborhood — part of an overhaul of Department of Homeless Services policy, DNAinfo has learned.
The seven-day notification process comes after residents in Elmhurst, East Elmhurst, Astoria and Rockaway complained that the city didn't give them any prior notice or listen to their concerns before opening up new shelters, although it’s not clear if that’s what prompted the change.
“As part of its responsibilities DHS has created a seven day notification process, which will give communities and respective elected officials at least seven days notice about our use of a potential shelter site,” according to a memo sent Thursday by Homeless Services Commissioner Gilbert Taylor to elected officials.
MORE OF DNAINFO'S HOMELESS SHELTER COVERAGE:
But the agency warned that the new policy might not always be followed. "However, in some cases necessity may abbreviate the notification process," the memo says.
The memo said the process will begin with notification of the borough president, the neighborhood's representatives, its community board and precinct.
The next day, the organization operating the shelter will send letters to officials and community leaders and invite them for in-person meetings.
Five days before the shelter opens, the organization running the shelter will create a "good neighbor" plan, the memo says, and also fully explain what kind of shelter it will be. The details of the good neighbor policy were not immediately clear.
By the time the first residents move in, there will be town halls scheduled and a community advisory board — made up of local leaders, shelter residents and official representatives — created, according to the memo.
The protocol is a major turnaround from a process that elected officials and community activists said left them out of the discussion, and sprung up new shelters without any prior notice.
In June, an emergency family shelter was quietly installed in the former Pan Am Hotel in Elmhurst, with notification sent to the community board and elected officials after the first families moved in.
"My office and our community were given no advance notice," City Councilman Danny Dromm said at the time. There have been three large community protests regarding the shelter since.
Another family shelter is planned for the Westway Motor Inn in East Elmhurst, and politicians there sent a joint letter saying it was "unacceptable" that DHS didn't notify the community.
DHS officials maintain that they notified officials via phone and in writing earlier this month.
And last week, the DHS announced a shelter for adult families would go into a former Daytop Village on the Rockaway peninsula — despite an official from that agency denying it would happen when asked by the community board as recently as June.
Neither location was considered an emergency shelter.
On Tuesday, ahead of a planned protest outside the Pan Am Hotel, Commissioner Taylor told reporters that he’d like to “reset the button” and find out how they could have a different conversation with the communities hosting the shelters.
“The communication is ongoing and the dialog continues to take place,” he said.
The new protocol is effective immediately, according to the DHS.