BY ARIEL HERNANDEZ
Western Queens community leaders said that they were not given adequate notice that a Best Western Hotel in Long Island City is renting rooms to the city’s Department of Homeless Services (DHS) to house homeless families.
According to the DHS, the hotel—located at 38-05 Hunters Point Ave.—has not been converted to a homeless shelter; however, it has reserved 82 rooms at the hotel to provide shelter to families with children. Currently, 64 of those units are being utilized, although the DHS projects that the number will increase.
The DHS has been using the Best Western since Sept. 26, at which time local elected officials and the community board were notified.
“While we are phasing out cluster units as a first priority and increasing high-quality borough-based shelter capacity citywide, we are using commercial hotels like this location as a bridge to provide shelter to homeless New Yorkers, including families with children, who would otherwise be turned out into the street,” said DHS spokesman Isaac McQuinn.
Earlier this year, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a new plan that would close all cluster units and discontinue the practice of housing homeless people at commercial hotels by opening 90 homeless shelters throughout the city. Since then, hotels across the city—such as the Holiday Inn in Jackson Heights, which will be providing rooms for the homeless by 2019—have announced that they would stop housing the homeless.
Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan (D-Long Island City) wrote a letter to de Blasio about the lack of notice regarding the Long Island City Best Western.
“I do not feel that our community was given adequate notice, nor time to prepare for this development,” the letter read. “My office received no information as to which company will be managing the shelter, nor for how long the shelter will be operating.”
Nolan said that since the mayor’s plan is to phase out temporary living situations at hotels by 2023, she is surprised that the DHS is accumulating more hotel rooms.
“No one wants to see children homeless, but the administration’s approach makes it impossible for a community to accept a shelter,” said Nolan. “They become a source of resentment for the communities in which they are placed, not least from the loss of service-industry jobs and a decrease in tourism-related commerce as a result of the hotel’s closure. There is also the uncertain, possible negative, impact on the residential areas in which they are located. Due to the lack of transparency and input that the community is afforded during this process, opposition builds.”
Nolan is asking that the Long Island City hotel—in addition to the one on Borden Avenue, City View Inn, Maspeth Holiday Inn Shelter and the Verve—be eliminated as shelters. She is also calling for a meeting with the DHS.
News of the shelter broke on Sept. 25, when Matthew Russo, a former Best Western worker, tweeted out a photo he took of a letter he received from the hotel’s management that read, “This letter is to inform you that your employment with [Best Western] will be ending on Sept. 25, 2017. The business has been sold. Thank you for your time. Your final check will be sent to your home.”
Russo tweeted the photo to Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), stating that local residents were concerned that a homeless shelter would open at the Best Western site.
Reach Ariel Hernandez at (718) 357-7400 x144, firstname.lastname@example.org or @reporter_ariel.