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Formerly Homeless Man Blasts East Elmhurst Shelter Critics for 'Hate'

By Katie Honan | October 1, 2015 12:28pm
 DHS officials listened as neighbors express their concerns about a new homeless shelter in East Elmhurst.
DHS officials listened as neighbors express their concerns about a new homeless shelter in East Elmhurst.
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DNAinfo/Katie Honan

CORONA — Hanif Abdur-Raheem said it wasn’t easy growing up in shelters across the city, even if he was thankful for the place to stay.

“It’s still a dire situation,” he said of his time bouncing around different places throughout his childhood.

“When I was growing up I didn’t know where I’d go to school. Imagine having to live in a constant state of uncertainty for when it will end?”

He tried to convey his experiences at a town hall meeting Wednesday night with residents and representatives from the Department of Homeless Services and CAMBA, the group operating The Landing, a controversial shelter that opened in August in East Elmhurst.

Abdur-Raheem, 38, who now lives near Junction Boulevard, said his neighbors just wanted the shelter to go someplace else.

“You want to segregate the poor and brutalize them for being poor,” he told the tense crowd. “You hate them for being poor.”

He was the only one to show support for the shelter.

Most people who spoke at the hours-long meeting at St. Mark’s AME church on Northern Boulevard weren’t happy with the shelter or with DHS’ process of informing the community.

They shared fears of what they said has happened in the neighborhood since it opened, and wondered why the city would open four shelters within a half-mile radius.

The Landing opened Aug. 24 with 15 families and has now grown to 131 — 316 people in all, including 154 children, according to shelter director Elizabeth Stevens. It has capacity for 169 families.

Residents are from across the city, she said, and include working families feeling the impact of eviction or who are simply unable to make enough money.

In September, one shelter resident returned for his sophomore year at MIT, with help from the DHS which provided a laptop.

Stevens said various community groups had stepped up to donate bookbags and toys for kids, to offer day care services and to create a community map to help people get around.

They’ve worked to make the shelter a welcoming place, she said. There’s a plan to add kitchenettes to each individual room, which is required by law, although a timeline of the construction was not immediately clear.

“We want to thank the community for being welcoming, and remind them that families in crisis are still families,” Stevens said.

Still, most locals were not swayed.

Ruth Turville has lived on 87th Street for 40 years, she said, down the block from another shelter, King’s Inn.

“We’re already packed, at capacity,” she said, noting the nearby Westway and Skyway shelters.

She said she’s seen what she described as illegal behavior around shelters, has had her car broken into and had to install security cameras around her house.

“We don’t want it shoved down our throats, constantly,” she said. “When you’re not told about it until after the fact.”

DHS plans to create a community advisory board and Kercena Dozier from DHS encouraged local residents to join. There they can talk about any issues and find ways to make things work.

While speaking to the crowd, she asked people to reflect on Pope Francis’ recent visit to the city — and stressed everyone should try to “love thy neighbor.”

“Somebody needs to love us,” a woman in the crowd then yelled out, to cheers.