[Hpn] New York City, NY - Storm Over 337 Room Best Western Carlton Homeless Shelter

Editor Editor <hccjr@bellsouth.net>
Mon, 08 Jul 2002 04:23:02 -0500

Storm Over 337 Room Best Western Carlton Homeless Shelter
[Salvation Army to be city contractor for shelter program.
NY City will pay $133 per day [$3,990 /month] for each family for
the first three months, and $118 per day ($3,540 /month) thereafter]

By Curtis L. Taylor - News Day - July 7, 2002

Just minutes outside Kennedy Airport, tucked in a cozy corner of South Ozone
Park near neatly manicured lawns and well-kept homes, sits one of the city's
largest concentrations of homeless shelters.

Residents, community leaders and local elected officials have complained for
years about the five city shelters in the middle- and working-class
neighborhood - saying the facilities have stymied economic development, lowered
property values and placed an unfair burden on the local school district.

Now, armed with a recent decision by a Manhattan bankruptcy judge clearing the
way, the city will add another facility to the area with the planned conversion
of the Best Western Carlton House hotel.

The 337-unit facility at 138-10 N. Conduit Blvd., bordering the Jamaica and
South Ozone Park neighborhoods, will be the largest homeless family shelter in
the city, officials said. Under an emergency three-month agreement, 25 families
already have moved into the former hotel.

Residents and local elected officials have labeled the plan racist, saying the
area, populated largely by minorities, is shouldering a disproportionate number
of shelters in the borough.

"This is racist when you look at the number of shelters in the area when
compared with the surrounding communities," said state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St.
Albans). "We are carrying an unfair burden. We have more shelters than any other
area in Queens."

Six of the city's 15 shelters in Queens are located in the vicinity of Kennedy
Airport, according to officials with the city's Department of Homeless Services.

A Newsday analysis of the 15 Queens shelters provided by the city's Homeless
Services Department showed what appeared to be a saturation in the area, with
another seven shelters in nearby Jamaica.

Monique Meredith, who lives across the street from the proposed shelter, fears
for the safety of her family.

"We don't want them here because we are afraid of what element it will bring to
the neighborhood," Meredith said.

"We don't want people roaming around, begging and cursing at us. We work hard to
live in this neighborhood and keep it clean.

I am sure there are some families that need help, but you know the stereotypes.
This is not fair, we pay taxes."

But with a record high in the number of homeless citywide and court records
showing an escalating number of families with children being left overnight to
sleep on the floors and on benches at the city's one intake center, in the Bronx
officials in the Bloomberg administration and some homeless advocates say there
is a pressing need to open the facility.

"With the right to shelter in New York City and the increasing number of
families presenting themselves to shelters, our immediate mandate is to make
sure each and every one has a roof over their heads," said Linda I. Gibbs,
commissioner of the Homeless Services Department.

"In terms of the short-term solution, we have to ensure that there is sufficient
capacity," Gibbs said. "An adequate number of beds, enough for everybody to
sleep. We have to ensure a safe and secure place for them to stay."

As of Wednesday, the city's shelter rolls included 7,980 families - 14,595
children and 11,722 adults - 21 percent more than the past fiscal year, said Jim
Anderson, a spokesman for the Department of Homeless Services.

Officials and homeless advocates say those statistics can largely be attributed
to a worsening shortage of affordable housing in the city.

There are 33,500 or nearly 5,000 more homeless individuals than the previous
high of 27,600 in 1988 when the city first tracked the crisis, officials said.

Richard Motta, president of HELP USA, a not-for-profit provider of homes, jobs
and services to the homeless, low-income families and individuals, said the
situation has reached crisis levels.

"The city's got a serious problem with almost 8,000 families, a lot of them in
welfare hotels," Motta said. "Having them in a facility with structured services
is a better alternative for the families."

Still, he faulted the city for placing an unfair burden on some communities such
as those near Kennedy Airport by not having a long-term plan in place.

"I would rather the city have a more planned, strategic approach to locating
these facilities but necessity is the mother of invention," Motta said. "They
have a problem: too many families and not enough places to put them."

Advocates for the homeless say the record numbers of homeless point to the
government's continuing failure to provide for its most needy dating back to the

Then, an extraordinary set of circumstances contributed to a national homeless
crisis, including the crack epidemic, the release of patients from state mental
health facilities under a policy of deinstitutionalization, and the worst
recession since the Great Depression, the advocates said.

Locally, there was also a huge conversion of single-room occupancy buildings for
other uses that severely reduced the city's affordable housing stock, advocates

To combat the current crisis, Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently released a
long-range strategic plan that includes moving homeless families from shelters
to subsidized apartments.

Traditionally, the city's Homeless Services division has spent a majority of its
resources on providing shelter.

Gibbs said that policy shift was a major change from how the city dealt with the
homeless issue in the past.

The new strategic plan will be anchored by an interagency coordinating council
on homelessness that will use data to help identify why people become homeless
and how to prevent it, Gibbs said.

Other major components include prevention, federal vouchers and dedicated
housing units with emphasis on finding permanent, long-term housing, Gibbs said.

But Gibbs admits the short-term crisis of finding beds still remains.

On Tuesday, the Legal Aid Society was in court pursuing a 21-year-old decree
that requires the city to provide shelter to every homeless family, as 93
families with children illegally slept on floors and benches at the city's
Emergency Assistance Unit in the Bronx.

There are 298 needy families housed at the unit - the city's sole entry point
for families seeking shelter.

"The city needs to be providing a combination of permanent and temporary housing
to alleviate the crisis," said Steven Banks of the Legal Aid Society,
representing plaintiffs in the continuing litigation over the 1981 decree.

The lawsuit, which resumes in court on July 16, also asks the court to order the
Pataki administration to provide the same rent subsidies to homeless families in
New York City shelters that the state gives to homeless families on Long Island.

The state supplements the public assistance rental allowance on Long Island,
which is $412 a month for a family of three, compared with $286 in New York
City, Banks said.

Harvey Robins, a senior department official during both the Koch and Dinkins
administrations, said it is "hard to strike a balance between sustaining viable
neighborhoods and identifying space to meet the crush of homeless families."

"When push came to shove during the Koch and Dinkins administrations, they opted
to put up homeless families rather than sustain the neighborhoods," Robins said.
"It is a horrible choice for anyone to have to make."

Under the new facility plan in South Ozone Park, the hotel will be leased to the
Salvation Army, which would operate the property as a Tier II shelter.

The five-year lease agreement, still being finalized, would cost $133 per day
for each family in a unit for the first three months, then change to $118 per
day for each family, Anderson said. The figure includes providing social
services to the families, he said.

In a Tier II shelter, 10 or more families are provided with temporary shelter
while they seek permanent housing. The families - expected to stay about a
month - have access to three daily meals and a variety of social service and
education programs, officials said.

"This is going to have a devastating impact on the community," said City
Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), citing the city statistics as proof of
oversaturation in Southeast Queens. "This is the premier hotel strip in the area
and it will affect business, jobs and economic development ...at a time when the
area has experienced an economic renaissance."

Peter Garcia, an assistant general manager with the Radisson Hotel next door to
the Best Western, said there was concern since a downturn in air travel after
the Sept. 11 attacks has reduced occupancy rates.

"We are concerned about the impact this will have on business but we are also
concerned about the community," Garcia said. "We are a part of this community."

On Wednesday, about 75 residents and elected officials, including Rep. Gregory
Meeks (D-Far Rockaway), Assemb. Vivian Cook (D-South Ozone Park), Assemb.
Michele Titus (D-Far Rockaway), state Sen. Ada Smith (D-Brooklyn) and City
Councilman Alan Jennings (D-Jamaica), protested in front of the facility in
temperatures nearing a scorching 100 degrees. The coalition blasted the
Bloomberg administration for proceeding with the plan despite staunch community

"This sends a message to the mayor that he is not just going to walk over this
community," said Cook, who lives three blocks from the shelter. "He is the mayor
of black people, too, and the same consideration that he gives to other
communities should be given to us."

Gibbs said there were fewer shelters in Queens compared with Manhattan, Brooklyn
and the Bronx, where 90 percent of the city's facilities are located. Responding
to the community complaints, Gibbs said the city adheres to a strict proposal
process to choose shelter locations.

"The facilities are brought to our attention [by nonprofit organizations], we
certainly don't target," Gibbs said. "If that criteria is met, we move forward."

Gibbs added: "Our plan is hopefully not to bring on any more shelters...but we
will do it as long as we have this pressing need."

Homeless Shelters in Queens

Residents and city officials say certain neighborhoods in Queens are shouldering
a disproportionate number of homeless shelters compared with the rest of Queens.


Homeless and Housing News