People currently living in Metro Family Residence, which is also known as Metro Motel, at 73-00 Queens Boulevard, report a number of ongoing issues, including air conditioning that was shut off completely during the city's recent heat wave.
Former resident Jobanie Gonzalez said the shelter used to provide air conditioning for residents from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m., and during the day provided a cooling room in its cafeteria, which closed at 6:30 p.m.
However, the severe heat during the day led to several break-ins to the electric control room in order to reactivate the air conditioning. As a result, operators discontinued air conditioning for shelter residents completely.
Gonzalez, who has a six-month-old daughter with a heart murmur, described how he dealt with the heat during his time at the shelter.
“We would bring her outside and put a wet rag on her head to keep her cool,” he said.
According to Lauren Gray, senior advisor for Communications for the Department of Homeless Services (DHS), not all shelter units are air conditioned.
The DHS allocates air-conditioned units based on medical needs, as long as a medical note is presented to a case manager. But Gonzalez said a medical note for his daughter was ignored by management.
Resident Candice Cruz said she bought three fans to keep herself and her two asthmatic sons cool at night.
“They don’t treat us fairly, they treat us poorly,” said Cruz.
However, the lack of air conditioning at the shelter is only one of several problems.
Ronald Smith, who has been a tenant for five weeks with his wife and two sons, ended up at the motel when his landlord brought him to court after raising his rent and Section 8 refused to pay the increase.
He said he believed the shelter was serving expired food to the residents.
A meal given to residents on August 18 was dated July 7, but according to Smith it was just one of several meals he had noted and reported to DHS.
Gray explained the motel obtains its meals from a contracted provider, and the date on the meals actually determines when they were produced and are unrelated to expiration.
She added that most meals have a shelf life of at least one year since they are maintained in frozen storage.
Since his arrival, Smith has voiced his disapproval about the conditions. He described one incident in which he had a verbal altercation with a social case manager at the motel.
“I’m speaking for everybody,” said Smith. “I’m just on hard times, I don’t live like this.”
According to the Shelter Scorecard issued by the DHS in March, the Metro Family Residence had a total of 17 violations.
Tenants at the motel have also been affected by the presence of water bugs, rats, and bedbugs. Antoine Van Buren, a resident for two years, described taking his son to the emergency room after being bitten multiple times.
Although he complained to the staff, he stated the room wouldn’t be cleaned for another day.
“He has to suffer for a whole other night,” Van Buren said last week.
Residents also say that the Metro Motel is still renting rooms to guests in addition to operating a shelter.
The motel's website still allows people to make reservations through email, and a person who answered a recent call to the motel said a room was $100 per night.
According to Gray, the Metro Family Residence and the Metro Motel, which is located at the same address, are two separate buildings.
Last week, a person staying in the motel section of the building was found dead after overdosing on painkillers. Gray said the person was not associated with the shelter.
Smith stated prostitution and drugs are a common sight at night, as well as fighting. Cruz explained she tries to shield her kids from such incidents, but the news still gets around.
“My kids still hear things,” she said.