[Hpn] New York City, NY - Carlton House is now 337-bed homeless shelter near Kennedy International Airport - New York Times - July 13, 2002

H. C. Covington H. C. Covington" <icanamerica@bellsouth.net
Sat, 13 Jul 2002 08:07:54 -0500

At Airport Hotel, Guests Are Now the Homeless
Carlton House is now 337-bed homeless shelter near Kennedy International Airport

By SARAH KERSHAW - New York Times - July 13, 2002

Along airport hotel row in Queens, NY hundreds of new guests are checking into
the Best Western Carlton House, their clothes scrunched into plastic garbage
bags and tattered suitcases, their mental travel logs filled with tales of
eviction, domestic violence, and debt.

The homeless are sleeping in the suites and double rooms that were, until the
hotel went bankrupt last spring, occupied by business-class travelers,
conference goers and tourists.

The building, which became a homeless shelter 10 days ago, is now simply called
Carlton House. But it still looks exactly like a hotel, with shrubbery around
the gates outside, and polished mahogany inside.

And the Best Western Carlton House Web site, not yet defunct, still touts
three-star details, like plush seating, and mentions sightseeing, fine dining
and theater tickets. But the only jaunts most guests take now are to a bus stop,
a coin laundry eight blocks away or a pay phone down the street.

So it is that the surging problem of homelessness in New York City and the
travel industry's post-Sept. 11 economic troubles have collided at a 337-room
hotel that is now a 337-bed homeless shelter in South Ozone Park, in the shadow
of Kennedy International Airport.

There is plenty of room for the homeless on hotel row, where a string of six
major hotels line 135th Avenue, near the Belt Parkway, and where business has
plummeted since the attack on the World Trade Center crippled the airline

Occupancy for most of the hotels has hovered around 60 percent since September,
officials say, but things got so bad for the Best Western that it left South
Ozone Park.

City officials were thrilled to find such a large, idle space. They said that
about 80 families had moved in so far, and that they expected Carlton House to
be full by the end of this month.

In terms of supply and demand, the setup in South Ozone Park makes perfect
sense. But sheltering the homeless is never that simple.

At a delicate time for the Queens economy, which is recovering from Sept. 11 at
barely a snail's pace, the metamorphosis of a hotel into a shelter has touched
off a nasty battle between City Hall and elected officials from Queens.

Some critics, among them politicians who are quick to sympathize with the
homeless, are staking the very future of southeast Queens on the situation along
hotel row. They see a serious threat to what until recently was the brisk
economic development of the area, which is heavily dependent on airport-related

"The city seems intent on dooming us," said City Councilman James Sanders Jr.,
who represents the district that includes hotel row, where the Radisson, the
Holiday Inn, the Hampton Inn and the Courtyard Marriott are a quick taxi ride
from Kennedy. "Why would you spend top dollar to go to the Radisson if you're
going to stay right next to a homeless shelter? I think that we're in dire
straits and I don't think the city has recognized it."

But with homelessness at record levels in New York, city officials might also
use the term "dire straits"  although they chose "unprecedented"  to describe
the situation.

The NYC homeless-shelter system, which houses 8,000 families per night, is being
inundated with families in need as more apply for beds than leave them,
officials said.

Carlton House, operated by the Salvation Army under contract with the city, is
the larger of two big temporary family shelters opening this summer.

The Bloomberg administration unveiled a policy recently that envisioned more
permanent low-income housing for the homeless, and the facilities  few as
luxurious as the Carlton House  are intended to house the homeless temporarily.

The average stay in such temporary shelters is about nine months, officials

The other new temporary shelter, a 157-bed facility in an unused residential
building on New Lots Avenue in Brooklyn, is to open later this month, officials

Linda I. Gibbs, the city's commissioner of homeless services, said she had met
with half a dozen Queens officials to discuss their concerns about the shelter,
including their frustration that 12 of the borough's 14 homeless shelters are in
southeast Queens. (City officials said Queens actually had far fewer shelters
than the other boroughs  8 percent of the total.)

"We have to respond to this immediate demand for shelter," Ms. Gibbs said,
adding that she did not think the existence of a shelter on the row would make
or break the hotel business. "It is really the airport traffic that is going to
speak to the occupancy of these hotels."

The outcry over the shelter, which Mr. Sanders said he feared would spawn more
hotel closings and a "homeless shelter row" on 135th Avenue, was not lost on
some of Carlton House's new residents.

On July 3, a day before the shelter opened, a group of 100 politicians and
community advocates protested in front, shouting, "Hey, hey, ho, ho, this
homeless shelter has got to go!"

And one of the shelter's many opponents, State Senator Ada L. Smith, got into a
spat with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and his security detail at a recent town
hall meeting after she slammed down a packet of information about homelessness
in front of the mayor and startled him.

Several homeless people staying at Carlton House said they had overheard
residents of South Ozone Park, who live on the tidy residential streets just
north of hotel row, complaining loudly that their property values would tumble.

Susan Taylor, 30, arrived at Carlton House on Tuesday with her three young
children after leaving her apartment and her job running a day care program in
Brooklyn to escape a man who was abusing her, she said.

On Wednesday, she tried to use a pay telephone at the Radisson next door
because, she said, the shelter's phones were not working yet. She said a
Radisson employee told her that the homeless could not use the phone, the
fitness room or the spa.

"In a way, they are right about certain things," she said of the shelter's
critics. "Nobody should have to lose business. But people also need to take the
time to understand what it's like to be homeless. They don't know, they live in

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H. C. [Sonny] Covington
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