In Maspeth, a Battle Over Homeless Shelter Plans

Residents at the first meeting, on Aug, 11, about the proposed Maspeth homeless shelter. (Photo by Wojtek Maslanka for Nowy Dziennik)

Residents at the first meeting, on Aug. 11, about the proposed Maspeth homeless shelter. (Photo by Wojtek Maslanka for Nowy Dziennik)

Residents of the Queens neighborhood of Maspeth, among them Polish and Irish long-time residents, are in an uproar over city plans to convert a Holiday Inn into a 115-bed homeless shelter. Nowy Dziennik covered two meetings about the planned shelter. Here is a condensation of two articles in Nowy Dziennik, the Polish language weekly, both written by Wojtek Maslanka and translated by Aleksandra Slabisz. An excerpt from an article in Irish Central, written by Debbie McGoldrick, follows.

Residents and local politicians from Maspeth are not giving up the fight against the planned homeless shelter in their neighborhood.

Around a thousand people, including the Polish Americans who have for many years made Maspeth their home, turned up at the Knockdown Center last Wednesday for the second meeting with representatives of the Department of Homeless Services. During the meeting, which lasted for more than three hours, residents and local politicians vented their opposition to converting the Holiday Inn into a 115-bed homeless shelter, and threatened to do all they can to stop the project, which is due to become a reality on October 1st.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, who represents Maspeth, announced on Wednesday that joined by state senator Joseph Addabbo and Assembly Member Marge Markey, she had filed a suit against the City of New York and Steven Banks, the commissioner of the Department of Social Services. The lawsuit argues that the de Blasio administration is breaking the law by trying to convert the Holiday Inn Express into a homeless shelter.

“The mayor himself, as well as Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Steven Banks, has said converting hotels into homeless shelters is an unacceptable solution to the city’s homelessness crisis […] Hotel conversion should not be used to create shelter capacity, while phasing out the use of legal cluster sites shelters, in which families are housed in apartments, in privately owned buildings, with kitchens and other home appliances,” the council member said. “These individuals and our communities deserve better from the city,” she continued.

Visibly nervous, commissioner Steven Banks tried to argue during the Wednesday meeting that the city has a duty to provide shelter for the homeless. He noted that in the last 20 years,  homelessness has become an acute problem in the Big Apple. While in 1994 there were only 24,000 people in the homeless shelters, now the number has surged to 58,500. There are, however, many more who don’t register at shelters, but remain on the streets. As he was speaking, the residents, in protest, literally turned their backs on the commissioner. They argue that the city has, first of all, a duty towards the New Yorkers who pay taxes. They vowed to fight the proposed shelter until the end.

This was the second community meeting with the representatives of the de Blasio administration regarding the plans of converting the Holiday Inn Express into a homeless shelter which will be able to accommodate up to 220 people. The first one took place two weeks earlier, on August 11th in the Martin Luther High School Auditorium, and was marked by loud protests by hundreds of residents, some armed with banners, shouting “No to the shelter,” “We don’t want any more shelters”.

The residents fear the quality of life in Maspeth will worsen once there is a homeless shelter in their neighborhood. They fear crime will go up and they will see more  break-ins in homes and cars, thefts, assaults and other dangers to their children. [They noted] that the Holiday Inn Express is located near schools, kindergardens, churches and the park, and there are ex-convicts among the homeless.

The residents also pointed out the scarcity of public transportation. With no subway reaching Maspeth, the residents, and the homeless if the shelter project were to come to fruition, will rely on buses, which don’t often run and are already crowded.

“Maspeth residents have a right to protest the idea of creating the homeless shelter here. The neighborhood belongs to hardworking immigrants, who have lived here 20-25 years, and hardly ever reach for any city assistance. They are able to support themselves and take care of their homes,” said Elzbieta Kulec, one of the residents of the Polish descent, who spoke during the first meeting. “Why won’t they build shelters in other, more privileged, neighborhoods, say Kew Gardens, Forest Hills or Whitestone?” the resident continued.

Sen. Addabbo, Assemblywoman Markey and Councilwoman Crowley did not participate in the rallies or the protest. However, they reportedly met twice with the representatives of the de Blasio administration, including the Department of Social Services. Allegedly, they were told that the city will give up their plan of opening a homeless shelter in Maspeth if the local politicians suggest an alternative site for the shelter.

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Shelly's Cafe in Maspeth (Photo via Irish Central)

Shelly’s Cafe in Maspeth (Photo via Irish Central)

Also writing about the controversy was Debbie McGoldrick in Irish Central:

Irish and Polish immigrant families have called Maspeth home for years and remain a strong presence in the community, which is only five miles from Manhattan but not easily accessible by subway. Grand Avenue, the main street in the town, is dotted with many Irish-owned businesses and bars/restaurants.

Michelle Boyce, a native of Newry, Co. Down and owner of the popular Irish café and food store Shelly’s, right off Grand at 66th Street, told our sister publication the Irish Voice that she’s “extremely worried and concerned” by how her year-old business will be impacted if the shelter becomes a reality.

“It is very frustrating,” said Boyce, a resident of Maspeth for the past six years who worked in the hospitality industry before deciding to branch out on her own, offering homemade hot Irish meals, groceries and more to her varied clientele.

Maspeth is “full of Irish,” she says, “and has a real mom and pop flavor. It’s a lovely community. But we are already experiencing problems with criminal behavior. I’ve seen it myself.”

Shelly’s is a short walk from the Holiday Inn Express and Boyce, like many other locals, has noticed unsavory behavior from “unknowns” in the nearby park.

“There are already homeless people around here and it can get scary,” said Boyce, who travels to her business by car because of her growing fear of walking early in the morning or late at night.

Nonetheless, McGoldrick wrote, Boyce said that  she doesn’t want to be “organizing boycotts or pickets.”

To find out why, and learn more about how other Irish residents feel about the prospect of a homeless shelter in their neighborhood, go to Irish Central.

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