BY KULSOOM KHAN
The Pan American Hotel in Elmhurst, an Econo Lodge in South Ozone Park, the Verve Hotel in Long Island City, and the Westway Motel in Astoria are among some of the lodging facilities in Queens that have recently been converted to homeless shelters. The Par Central Motor Inn located at 82-85 Parsons Blvd. in Jamaica has also joined this growing list of hotels.
According to the city’s Department of Homeless Services, 33 units in the hotel are currently being used to provide temporary housing for families who need it. The first families moved in last September. The hotel falls under Community Board 8’s area and board members are upset that they were not notified of the DHS’s plan nor were they given a chance to review and comment on it.
“Our contention is not intended to address the issue of sheltering the homeless. It is instead, with the hurried action by the Department of Homeless Services to put into place an arrangement which has the potential for profound impact on our nearby community,” board Chairman Alvin Warshaviak wrote last month in a letter addressed to the DHS.
Kevin Forrestal is the chairman of the board’s committee covering the community in which the hotel is located and agrees with this sentiment. He believes that hotels and motels are not an appropriate setting for homeless individuals.
“It’s a concern that many hotels in the area are being turned into homeless shelters, which would not be as well supervised,” he said. “This was a surprise to the community and we feel that it was done in secret.”
Forrestal acknowledged that there are many homeless individuals that may be harmless, but others require additional assistance since they have serious health and medical issues including substance abuse. He’s specifically concerned that the arrangement might cause a possible increase in crime around the area.
“There are a lot of physical crimes associated with the homeless that could present a danger to the community,” he said.
Fresh Meadows resident Daisy Avila, on the other hand, is not opposed to the idea and hopeful that it will work out.
“Appropriate supervision and management aligned with simple rules supported by a plan of action done in a respectful manner will successfully result positive,” she said. “Within shelters human beings have lost or been stripped from their personal belongings and been given this last alternative as their only hope of existence. Being homeless is not done on purpose, and usually is unforeseen.”
In a statement, DHS said the residents of the hotel would not be there permanently.
“Whenever any family applies for shelter, we look at all opportunities to help divert them into more stable options. We use this facility to temporarily house a limited number of families while their applications are processed and we look for options for them to remain stably housed and avoid shelter,” the statement read.
The board has not yet received a response from the DHS to the letter that was sent regarding the issue. However, Forrestal plans to meet and follow up with officials from the agency to discuss how long the facility will be used as a shelter and if they have plans to expand and use more units for this purpose in the future.