BY JON CRONIN
City Council members and community board leaders expressed distrust and trepidation while listening to homeless shelter plan updates presented by Human Resources Administration and Department of Homeless Services (DHS) Commissioner Steven Banks at a Queens Borough Board meeting on Monday.
Banks said that the DHS is committed to placing 90 shelters in communities throughout the city in a borough-based system based on need. Some areas might have both a shelter and homeless in local hotels as the agency transitions out of its old system.
“We’re in year one,” Banks said. “It’s a multi-year plan. It’s challenging if you have a district with hotels.”
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz noted in DHS’ records that there are 8,731 homeless residents from Queens, but there are currently 10,318 people being housed in 38 hotels and one drop-in center in the borough.
Councilwoman Adrienne Adams (D-Jamaica) said that her district has the highest concentration of shelters.
“It’s still the highest bed count in the city,” she said. “How are we going to get to true equity with [DHS’] plan?”
Banks said that the principle of a borough-based system will help “even out” the number of shelters.
“Am I going to infuriate you by opening a shelter before closing hotels? I won’t be disingenuous. There’s a reason no one has done this before,” Banks said, adding that it was easier to use clusters and hotels.
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) criticized the DHS for removing families at the City View Hotel in Long Island City and replacing them with single homeless men. He said that there have since been more quality of life and security issues.
“It pains me to say, but haphazard is how I would describe how things are being handled in Community Board 2,” Van Bramer said, adding that a shelter created a few blocks from the City View is not a new facility, but rather a converted commercial hotel. “I don’t have faith and confidence in this plan.”
Councilman Bob Holden (D-Middle Village), who organized a multi-month protest against using the Maspeth Holiday Inn as a temporary shelter, asked Banks why hotels are more desirable than the 360 cluster apartments that are part of the plan.
The commissioner stated that cluster apartment are outdated, dangerous for families and more difficult to deliver services in than a hotel.
Councilman Barry Grodenchik (D-Oakland Gardens) noted that although he believed the DHS has successfully contained the homeless population, he hoped to see it decrease.
“We’re not going in the right direction,” Grodenchik said. “I don’t feel like we’re getting our bang for our buck.”