SUNNYSIDE — Local leaders are slamming the Department of Homeless Services for its use of a former Hunters Point Avenue hotel as a shelter, saying elected officials were only notified of the plan hours before the site opened its doors to homeless families.
The city began renting all 82 rooms at the former Best Western hotel between 38th and 39th streets on Sept. 26, providing space for 57 families — including 128 children — who would otherwise have nowhere to go, according to DHS.
But elected officials who represent the area said they were "blindsided" by the move, with several blasting the city for its lack of transparency.
"This community finds itself once again blindsided with the last-minute announcement of yet another hotel conversion," Congressman Joe Crowley wrote in a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio last week that accused the administration of opening the site with "no prior notice, and zero community input."
City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, whose district also includes the hotel site, said he was told about its use only "a few hours before they started moving families into that shelter."
"That is a broken system," Van Bramer said at a contentious Queens Community Board 2 meeting Thursday, where representatives from DHS were in attendance. "It is wrong, it is absolutely absurd, to start moving families in before anyone in the community knows."
The Best Western is the third hotel-turned-shelter currently being used in Queens Community District 2, and one of several new shelters to pop up in recent months across the city. Others recently opened in Williamsburg, Kew Gardens and Gowanus, despite de Blasio's pledge to cease using commercial hotels as shelters by 2023.
Until that expanded shelter network is built out, officials say the hotel rooms are needed to accommodate homeless residents during emergency situations when there isn't enough room for them at the city's other homeless facilities.
While the city has promised to give at least 30 days notice to the community about the opening of traditional homeless shelters, that's not always possible with emergency hotel sites, according to DHS. The agency it aims to notify local leaders of hotel use as early as possible or at least the day of its opening.
"We needed to open and use this facility very quickly," Amanda Nasner, a Queens borough director for the department, told CB2 members at last week's meeting.
"It is still temporary — we will be out of it by 2023," she added. "Until we can build new sites, we have to place people in shelters. We are legally mandated."
The Best Western location is being run by Childrens Community Services, a social-services provider that's offering things like job placement and financial planning to those staying at the hotel. The site has 24-hour security and a 9 p.m. curfew, a representative for the group told CB2.
But elected officials say the hotel is "inappropriate" for homeless families, citing its proximity to the Long Island Expressway as a potential hazard to children and because the rooms are not designed for long-term use, lacking kitchens and other necessities.
"Hotel rooms cannot serve as functioning living spaces," Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan wrote in a letter to the mayor last week.
In a statement, a DHS spokesman reiterated the administration's plan to cease its use of hotel shelters over the next six years.
“We remain committed to continued engagement with this community and communities across the five boroughs as we implement our plan to finally end the use of decades-old stop-gap measures — including the 17-year-old cluster program and use of commercial hotels, which dates back to the Lindsay Administration — and replace them with a smaller number of more effective, borough-based shelters," spokesman Isaac McGinn said.