Despite two passionate protests from Queens elected officials and local residents, the city is moving forward with their plan to open a third homeless shelter in the seven-block neighborhood of Blissville.
Under the plan, the city’s Department of Homeless Services (DHS) will move 154 adult homeless families into the Fairfield Inn by Marriott on Van Dam Street in the next few weeks. The move will now bring the number of homeless in the neighborhood to 550.
Blissville, which has about 475 residents, is a triangle-shaped community at the southeastern end of Long Island City wedged between the 1st Calvary Cemetery, the LIE and the Newtown Creek. Its residents are working class where Spanish is spoken first, and English and Bengali second.
“While every community must do its fair share to address the homelessness crisis, Blissville, a small community of only 475 permanent residents in Long Island City, already has two homeless shelters,” said U.S. Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-Western Queens, Manhattan, Brooklyn). “Putting a third shelter in Blissville, which lacks critical services, including mass transit, parks, schools, laundromats, grocery stores, urgent care facilities and hospitals, fails to meet the needs of this vulnerable population. It will also increase the area’s homeless population to over 500.
Maloney was one of several elected officials along with U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Sunnyside, Astoria, College Point, East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, Corona, Woodside, parts of the Bronx) and State Sen. Michael Gianaris’ (D- Astoria, Long Island City, Sunnyside) office, who protested the new shelter at Gracie Mansion on Manhattan’s upper east side on Monday.
Then yesterday, the group, which included the newly formed Blissville Civic Association had another demonstration on the steps of city hall before a scheduled city council hearing on homeless issues.
“This hotel has no kitchen, no laundry machines and a cafeteria that seats only 30. How will someone elderly or with physical challenges carry her laundry bag the half-mile to the laundromat? Where will people eat the three meals a day they’ll ladle out? I don’t care how much lipstick you put on it — it’s still a hotel. Homeless people need homes, not hotels,” said Blissville Civic Association Vice President Maria Davis.
The two current shelters in the neighborhood are the City View (33-17 Greenpoint Ave.) with about 100 homeless single men (to be temporarily exchanged with families with children for the summer and fall months) and Sweet Home Suites (39-06 30th Street, on the service road to the LIE, with housing for about 75 families with children — about 150+ people).
“It is unfair and unwise to continue to site shelters in a small, isolated area that is lacking many basic services. The administration should realize that they have made a mistake and pull back from this plan,” said City Council Member Jimmy van Bramer (D-Astoria, Long Island City, Sunnyside and Woodside).
Assemblymember Catherine Nolan (D-Sunnyside, Ridgewood, Astoria, Woodside, Long Island City Maspeth, Queensbridge, Ravenswood, Dutch Kills, Blissville) added her voice in support of the local Western Queens residents saying that the mayor and the DHS need to take a step back and develop a plan that actually helps the homeless, rather than warehousing them in hotels.
“Queens, and in particular western Queens, has seen the Maspeth Holiday Inn, the Verve Hotel in Dutch Kills, the former Best Western Hotel in Sunnyside and now City View and the Fairfield Inn turned into homeless shelters over the past few years. Our community has always done our share, having been the location for the Borden avenue men’s shelter in Long Island City for many years. Our community worked with the providers to help our veterans who were homeless. There has been oversaturation of our western Queens Neighborhoods, often times without adequate notice, and we have had enough,” said Noland.
The DHS responded that the new shelter is in keeping with de Blasio’s “Turn the Tide” strategy, which recognizes that homeless New Yorkers come from every community in the city and that shelters are distributed equitably to meet the need in all five boroughs.
“The City and not-for-profit social service provider partner Home/Life are opening this facility as soon as possible to give adult families from Queens the opportunity to be closer to the communities they called home as they get back on their feet. We are ensuring the building is ready for occupancy, finalizing all required reviews, and expect to open this facility this spring after all has been completed,” said DHS Spokesperson Isaac McGinn.