On one side of the debate, the city claims they properly notified the surrounding community about plans for the 216-room hotel, and on the other is a community that says they were blindsided by the move.
Community Board 4 district manager Christian Cassagnol said he was just as surprised as everyone else when he received a letter from the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) on June 6.
“It’s not that we’re against the homeless situation,” Cassagnol clarified, stating his support for housing the homeless. “It’s just that there is this element of shady practice going on here.”
Although he acknowledged that CB4 would not have any control over the decision from DHS to use the site, Cassagnol suggested the lack of communication from operator Samaritan Village and the hotel owner is what has led to the community uproar.
“The hotel refused to put management on the phone under all circumstances,” he said. “By the time they informed us it was going to happen, it was too late.”
Cassagnol suggested the very vocal opposition in Community Board 5 over a proposed 125-family shelter on Cooper Avenue in Glendale could be one possible reason for the lack of communication.
“This is my first time ever dealing with Samaritan Village,” he said. “We’re trying to set up a meeting, but in my opinion, this is something that should have been done a month ago.”
A representative from DHS said this week that the decision to house families with children at the Pan Am Hotel “was made after the Glendale Civic Association meeting,” on May 22 and that all elected officials were notified about the facility.
“As the number of families with children residing in temporary, emergency shelter grows, we must consider all available options to address our capacity needs and meet our legally mandated right to shelter,” the representative said in a statement. “In the short term, DHS is using the Queens Boulevard facility to provide essential shelter and supportive services to families with children.”
Councilman Daniel Dromm responded that his office was left out of the outreach process.
“I am upset that I was only informed that 36 homeless families would be given shelter at the Pan Am Hotel as it was actually happening at around 4:45 p.m. last Friday night,” Dromm said last week. “My office and our community were given no advance notice.”
With the Metro Hotel homeless shelter just one block from Pan Am, Dromm said his main concern is the overcrowding in nearby schools and the community.
“The hotel has 216 rooms. I believe it is bad policy to bring that many needy people into one place,” Dromm said. “While I recognize and support the need to house our homeless, I believe that this number is way too large. While DHS has promised my office added security and additional social services at the site, I still believe Elmhurst is overburdened.”