Elmhurst United Sends Signatures To The Top

BY JACKIE STRAWBRIDGE
Staff Writer

The push against Pan Am continues.

Members of the recently formed civic group Elmhurst United gathered Monday morning to announce their collection of about 3,000 signatures in protest of the Pan Am homeless shelter.

This shelter was installed in Elmhurst’s Pan American hotel in early June, to the surprise of elected officials and the community.

“Our schools in District 24 are overcrowded. Elmhurst cannot bear to burden the services of another homeless shelter,” the petition reads. “We demand that the City listen to us, the residents, when it comes to changes that affect our safety and community.”

According to Jennifer Chu, Elmhurst United collected signatures from Elmhurst residents at three previous protests against the shelter, as well as by going door-to-door. They intend to drop off the petitions at City Hall by the end of this week. Copies are also being sent to City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Borough President Melinda Katz and other elected officials in the area.

Chu said she hopes the petitions result in direct contact with Mayor Bill de Blasio and the DHS.

“I would like a sit-down meeting,” she said.

Residents Cecilla Gullas and Howard Moscowitz expressed their frustration with the DHS’ lack of response after a June 30 public hearing. Both noted that the community presented the DHS with a number of written questions and it is still waiting for answers from the agency.

The DHS did not respond to requests for comment as of press time.

Some of the focus of the press conference was on the media’s portrayal of the community’s opposition to the shelter.

Since community members began protesting against the shelter, publications including the Queens Tribune reported on the violent language hurled at the shelter’s residents.

“It seems there has been some misunderstanding in the media about our protests and concerns regarding the Pan Am shelter,” Chu said, adding that the movement’s focus has always been de Blasio’s response to homelessness in the City.

Chu spoke in front of signs reading, “Help the homeless! Stop warehousing!” and “Samaritan Village & DHS LIES.”

Bob Wong of the Elmhurst Neighborhood Block Association, who said he has met and befriended some of the Pan Am shelter residents, decried as “unfair” a letter to the editor of the New York Times penned by Councilwoman Margaret Chin (D-Manhattan) and Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing), following an article on the protests.

The council members had written that they were “saddened” by the response of the Chinese community in Elmhurst to the shelter.

“Asking the community to show tolerance and compassion is not an indictment of the community’s behavior,” Koo’s Chief of Staff, Jonathan Chung, said on behalf of the councilman. Koo was out of the country at press time.

“It would be a mistake for anyone to think that the comments of a few reflect the entire Asian-American community there,” Chung added.

“We do have compassion for everybody who lives on the street or don’t have a house,” Wong said.

Reach Jackie Strawbridge at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 128, jstrawbridge@queenstribune.com or @JNStrawbridge.