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City Books 100 Rooms at Radisson, Doesn't Tell Hotel They're for Homeless

By  Katie Honan and Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska | November 19, 2014 7:36am 

 The city booked a block of rooms at the Radisson Hotel in Jamaica without telling management that the rooms were for a homeless shelter.
The city booked a block of rooms at the Radisson Hotel in Jamaica without telling management that the rooms were for a homeless shelter.
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DNAinfo/Katie Honan

JAMAICA — The city booked 100 rooms at an airport hotel for a "government group" — but then filled the rooms with homeless people instead, according to the hotel's manager. 

Pierre Merhej, the general manager of the Radisson Hotel on 145th Street in Jamaica, said a representative from the city called his hotel’s sales office last month and said the city would need dozens of rooms at the 385-room hotel for a “government group” in November, he said.

“When you say they have a government group, as hotel people we like government groups,” Merhej said, adding that November is usually a slow month for the hotel, which is a few blocks from John F. Kennedy Airport.

The hotel only found out when the city called to finalize the reservation that the rooms would be used by the Department of Homeless Services to temporarily house a portion of the city's homeless population — which is currently more than 58,000. 

"We didn't know it was homeless residents but then when we talked to [DHS] they said they really need the room and they would really appreciate it if we helped them for a week or 10 days," Merhej said.

City officials booked a block of 100 rooms for 10 days, ending Tuesday, Merhej said. The rooms were not full the whole time, and Merhej said he wasn't sure how many people stayed at the hotel in all.

Food was delivered each day by DHS and Merhej said the hotel continued to book rooms to travelers and tourists. 

“It really doesn’t have an impact on our regular guests,” he said.

Still, Merhej said he would not allow DHS to book rooms at the hotel again, even if the city offered more money.

“This is a hotel, not a shelter, and we want to keep it this way,” he said. "We have a business to run and a reputation to keep and we intend on keeping it."

A spokesman for DHS said the rooms were booked so that homeless families had a temporary place to stay while the agency determined where they could be placed.

“DHS has always used temporary spaces for families as they await eligibility determinations to come into shelter," the spokesman said. "This is a short-term measure and ensures that no family is without shelter as the temperatures drop.”

It’s not clear where the residents will be moved to next.

Merhej declined to say what the cost for each room was, but rooms range between $175 and $220 per night on the hotel’s website.

The DHS is supposed to notify communities — including local politicians and community boards — about permanent shelters being placed in their neighborhood, but it was not clear if that rule applies to temporary shelters like the one this week in the Radisson Hotel.

Yvonne Reddick, district manager for Community Board 12, said she was not aware of any plan by the Department of Homeless Services to place homeless people at the hotel.

She also said that the agency “informed [the board] a few weeks ago that they were not looking to do any [new] shelter in board 12.”

According to Reddick, there are currently 10 homeless shelters in Community Board 12, which covers Jamaica, Hollis, St. Albans, Springfield Gardens, Baisley Park, Rochdale Village and South Jamaica.

“We have more shelters than any community board in Queens,” she said.

“We have nothing against homelessness but we just want everybody to get their fair share,” she added. “We don’t want to be the dumping ground for the borough of Queens.”

There used to be a homeless shelter in a building adjacent to the hotel, Reddick said. Called The Carlton House, it had 337 beds, but it closed several years ago, she said.