Editorial: A Tale of Two Meetings
Aug 17, 2016 | 14837 views | 0 0 comments | 438 438 recommendations | email to a friend | print
There were 700 people in the Martin Luther School gym to hear the Department of Social Services proposal to use the 110-room Holiday Inn Express in Maspeth as a homeless shelter for 220 couples.

Nearly double that amount were not allowed into the meeting because the room was at capacity, and it turned angry.

A number of television news stations covered the meeting, led by ABC7. What they reported was a bunch of NIMBY homeless haters, but we saw it quite differently. The array of speakers asking questions and making comments was impressive.

Sure, there were a few who were demonstrative in stating their opposition to the homeless and the way the city through an open request to owners to convert their hotels is putting shelters in neighborhoods.

But while the television media captured only the irate and sometimes irrational speakers, the meeting actually showed a side of Maspeth that is truly diverse.

From a middle-aged Asian man to a woman with an Irish brogue to an older Hispanic man to a trio of teenage girls, there were valid points made about the ills of using this particular spot in Maspeth.

They were met with insufficient answers by Commissioner Steven Banks explaining away the city’s need to house people who have nowhere to live.

One speaker questioned the commissioner’s assertion that there are 240 people in the city's homeless system from Maspeth, and another asked about a similar hotel in Astoria that had more than 400 calls to the police department in the past two months.

Those questions were not addressed and they were ignored by the television media, which aired the minority at the meeting who were shouting, threatening and grandstanding.

“Those guys were the loudest so they got on TV, but that's not Maspeth,” said one protestor Monday night. “Some of us are just angry. For one thing the city thinks warehousing these people is safe for them and us? Absurd.”

This city’s plan to put the homeless in hotels is flawed in terms of spreading shelters in a fair manner throughout the city’s five boroughs. It actually creates an environment that turns people NIMBY.

It creates an environment where neighbors will fight every hotel that is proposed for fear it will one day be converted into a shelter.

Of the 50 or so people who spoke at last week's meeting, nearly 85 percent made passionate pleas, asked pointed questions and voiced sensible concerns.

There were a handful of speakers who made threatening general statements and shouted thuggish remarks at the stage, but the vast majority of people just wanted answers to some of the questions surrounding the proposed shelter.

Commissioner Banks is a pro at these meetings. He knows when he makes certain statements people will respond by booing and yelling, and he counts on the fact that the television media will be all over that.

When people went home and watched the news, the meeting was portrayed as a NIMBY issue with the only remarks the threatening, protesting, shouting and general dislike of homeless people.

That’s a shame.
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