Oct. 1, 2015 By Michael Florio
Residents gathered Wednesday night at a local church to express concern and even outrage over the opening of an East Elmhurst homeless shelter.
The Landing Hotel Shelter (formerly the Clarion Hotel) began housing families last month, at 94-00 Ditmars Blvd, without providing the community much in the way of notification.
Wednesday’s meeting was the first opportunity for the residents to ask questions and express their concerns to the Department of Homeless Services and CAMBA, a Brooklyn-based provider that operates the shelter, since the facility opened. About 100 people attended the meeting.
Ruth Turville, a 40-year East Elmhurst resident, was outraged by the amount of shelters that have come to the neighborhood. She was not alone in noting that the Westway, King’s Inn and now the Landing are all a handful of blocks from one another, with Pan Am not much further.
“They are being shoved down our throat,” she exclaimed.
The Landing began housing 15 families on August 24, and has since grown to 131 families and 316 individuals including 154 children. At maximum capacity it will hold 169 families, one family per unit.
Turville, like others, claimed that the shelter would lead to an uptick in crime.
She suggested that cars and houses around the Landing have already been broken into and that shelter residents engage in prostitution.
There was nothing to substantiate those claims at the meeting.
Claire Harding-Keefe, Senior Vice-President with CAMBA, said under New York law no one can be denied shelter. She said that difficult residents could be transferred, although she did note it is a complex process.
“We could call the police or child welfare if [needed],” she said.
Other residents claimed that their house prices will decline–especially given the concentration of shelters in the area.
One sole resident, however, stood up for the shelter.
Hanif Abdurraheem, a Jackson Heights resident who was homeless for three years as a child, spoke out against Turville and the many other residents who opposed the shelter.
“You hate them for being poor,” he said to those in attendance. “These are young people with children in need and they deserve to be a part of the community.”
Abdurraheem, now 38, told the Jackson Heights Post that he was living in the Saratoga Family Inn in Jamaica from the time he was in fourth grade through seventh grade. He moved out of the shelter in 1991 and lived in Woodside until he moved into Jackson Heights last year.
“Residents are worried about stereotypes of the poor and hate the idea of them,” he said.
“They say you can be homeless, but be homeless elsewhere,” he added.
Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry urged the community to help those who cannot help themselves. He reflected upon a month he had spent as a young man, when he was homeless and would sleep at work or in a car.
“I never forgot the feeling of not having a place to lay my head,” he said. “As human beings we have to help those in need.”
State Sen. Jose Peralta agreed with Aubry’s sentiment but spoke of his own concerns, many of which resonated with the attendees.
Peralta said that he is all for helping those in need, especially since everyone, including himself, is “just a couple of pay checks away from being homeless.”
However, he said that is just one side of the equation.
A housing shelter is often temporary for the individuals or families who live there, Peralta said. However, for residents, it’s a permanent structure that they have to live next to for the long term.
The DHS is currently dealing with a crisis, with 56,000 homeless people living in New York City, including 23,000 children, according to Kercena Dozier, Director of Community Relations with the DHS.
Originally, DHS did not plan to use the location as a shelter, according to Lucille McEwen Executive Deputy Commissioner with the DHS.
But the agency had a 20 percent increase in applications this year, compared to 2014, and was forced to go back to proposed sites, including this one, and open shelters.
“A failing hotel is the perfect location to open a shelter,” she said. “Each family has its own room and privacy.”
McEwen said that there have been several hotels in East Elmhurst that have failed.
Later in the night Dozier asked residents to reflect on Pope Francis’ visit last week and urged the message he teaches to “love thy neighbor.”
“We need someone to love us,” a woman in the crowd shouted, to applauds.
Community Board 3 and the East Elmhurst Corona Civic Association hosted the meeting at St. Marks AME Church.