BY ARIEL HERNANDEZ
Community Board 2 and western Queens leaders focused their attention on a Sunnyside homeless shelter during the board’s monthly meeting on Oct. 5.
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) dropped by the meeting to discuss projects underway in the community due to recently allocated funding. At the meeting, which was attended by representatives from the city’s Department of Homeless Services (DHS), Van Bramer addressed the use of the former Best Western Hotel, located at 38-05 Hunters Point Ave., as a shelter. Van Bramer said that his office, Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan (D-Long Island City) and CB 2 were not notified about the arrangement at the hotel until after homeless families had already moved in. “This is a broken system,” said Van Bramer. “It is wrong. It is absolutely absurd to start moving families in before anyone in the community knows and has an opportunity to talk about it and question the DHS as to why they chose a hotel that is right on the Long Island Expressway, where young children could be placed in danger.”
Van Bramer said that he was not upset that the DHS is housing homeless families in the community, but rather that he disapproved of the location.
Several DHS representatives attended the meeting, including Amanda Nasner, the Queens director of external affairs; Lori Boozer, special adviser for external affairs; and Shawn Cook, director of program operations for the hotel’s service provider—Children’s Community Services.
Boozer said that there are currently 60,000 individuals in the DHS’ system, of whom 70 percent are families with children. “The drivers of homelessness are income inequality, domestic violence, poverty, inability to find employment and the lack of affordable housing,” said Boozer. Since there are not enough facilities in the city to accommodate the homeless, Boozer said that the DHS is temporarily using hotels to house families.
CB 2 member Pat O’Brien asked the DHS representatives if the agency was following its own policies when making emergency declarations. “The rules of the procurement policy board say that if it is an emergency, you don’t have to go through a [request for proposal]; you don’t have to notify the community until after the event,” O’Brien said. “But you’re disregarding the fact that the ‘emergency’ defined in the procurement board’s rules require that it be an unforeseen event.” Boozer said that the DHS has long attempted to purchase developments for permanent shelters, but has met with resistance by communities across the city. Therefore, the agency would continue to provide temporary shelter for the homeless at hotels until Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to create 90 new hotel shelters comes to fruition.