After the newly renovated Pan American Hotel, at 79-00 Queens Blvd. in Elmhurst, became one of the most recent shelters to open in the region, Community Board 4 district manager Christian Cassagnol said he started receiving letters from business owners and nearby residents.
“We heard some complaints about them not adhering to curfew, and I have seen people outside the shelter after 11 p.m.,” Cassagnol said. “ So they do have to ramp up security.”
He added, however, that Samaritan Village and the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) have done their part and responded with advisory meetings to address the issues.
Looking at the potential future for her community, Kathy Masi, president of the Glendale Civic Association, said she too has witnessed warning signs at other shelter facilities throughout the borough.
“What I saw is atypical of what goes on at the two Samaritan Village sites that I’m aware of in Briarwood and Jamaica,” Masi said. “But I saw people out past curfew, possibly dealing drugs and panhandling.”
Masi has since developed a petition to gather community support for the most recent push for a school complex on the proposed site for the shelter at 78-16 Cooper Ave. to address an overcrowding issue in District 24 schools.
She added that while the proposal for a school in place of a shelter has been slow to generate support, she is confident that “it will take off once school starts.”
The plan for a school was started by Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley years before a homeless shelter became the topic of discussion.
It was recently revitalized after the site passed an environmental study, however DOE spokesperson Marge Feinberg this week said, “We are not interested in the site.”
Department of Homeless Services spokesperson Christopher Miller said the city is in preliminary phases of opening the new 125-family shelter, and is unaware of any discussions with the DOE and School Construction Authority for the development of a school.
“We don’t have a contract yet, but we’re moving forward and this is something that is going to come to fruition,” Miller said of the current plan for a 52,000-square-foot Samaritan Village housing facility. “We know of no obstacles at this point.”
In response to curfew complaints, Miller said work permits allow residents to be outside past designated curfew hours, however adding that the larger problem is the way the homeless are viewed by the community.
“They’re trying to say homeless people bring crime to the neighborhood,” he said. “I would argue that all people don’t want to be in a shelter, and the perception that these families are criminals or harbor criminal intention is outrageous.”