A Planned Rego Park Shelter is Drawing Detractors From Nearby and Faraway Neighborhoods

By Celia Bernhardt | [email protected]

Approximately 80 protesters gathered outside the Wyndham Hotel at 61-18 93rd St. on Feb. 18 to rally against the conversion of the hotel to a men’s homeless shelter. Two weeks earlier, on Feb. 4, a crowd came out to protest the same issue. 

The hotel sits just around the corner from where the Long Island Expressway and Queens Boulevard cross. 

Speeches by Queens residents and political figures at the most recent rally were punctuated by chants of “No more shelters!” Speakers stood in the back of a pickup truck in front of a backdrop of protest signs pasted to the hotel’s wall, one rally leader waving a large American flag. 

The rally was emceed by District Leader Hiram Monserrate, former city council member and state senator. Monserrate was expelled from the Senate in 2010 after being charged with assault, and later served 21 months in federal prison for a separate case of fraud. The East Elmhurst Corona Alliance hosted the event, along Rego Park United — an ad-hoc group of local residents collaborating with Monserrate and the Alliance, according to Rego Park resident and speaker at the rally Peter Kefalas.

A Rego Park resident named Stephanie who introduced herself as “Sunshine” said to the crowd that the shelter would be a disaster. 

“They claim they care. They do not. They are just dumping these homeless people here, there, and everywhere,” she said to the crowd. “They are profiting from these people’s trauma.”

Sheryl Fetik, a Rego Park resident and representative of Queens Community & Civic Alliance, urged protesters to sign online petitions against the shelter and talked about possible next steps while addressing the crowd.

“We may very well need to hire a lawyer and go to court,” Fetik said. “We may need to raise money to go to court.”

Credit: Celia Bernhardt

Community Board 6, which represents Rego Park, was first informed by the city’s Department of Social Services about the shelter conversion in October 2023. After communicating back and forth about the issue, DSS made the decision official at a Jan. 10 CB6 meeting. 

Although the shelter was originally set to open in March, Beers-Dimitriadis recently received word that that date has been pushed back to this coming May. 

“I’m always making it clear that the Board had no vote in this matter,” CB6 Chair Heather Beers-Dimitriadis said. “We have a lot of people who seem to think that we did. We have a lot of people who seem to think that we are fully supportive of the shelter. We are supportive of the goals of the shelter, and we are equally supportive of the need for this community to live its life uninterrupted, in a very safe fashion. And we really hope that the two can happen at the same time.”

Not everyone is convinced. 

“There’s two schools in the neighborhood. There’s shopping, there’s communities, there’s businesses. We can’t allow this. And nobody asked us,” Kefalas said. Protesters also emphasized the hotel’s proximity to Lost Battalion Hall, a recreation center which is currently closed for renovations. 

Apple Maps marks P.S. 139 as a half-mile walk from the Wyndham hotel, and P.S. 206 as a 0.4 mile walk. 

Community District 6 has no other homeless shelters, by the DSS’s standards. But there is another shelter set to open across the road from Wyndham, housed near the Rego Park Post Office. Operated by WestHab, the facility will include transitional housing specifically for family units, not single men. 

“We’ll be rallying against that one too,” Kefalas said. 

Beers-Dimitriadis said that CB6 was surprised to find out that WestHab’s facility did not fulfill the district’s obligation to DSS to house at least one homeless shelter. The primary difference that she understands between that facility and Wyndham is the populations the two locations serve. 

“I think to the public, it is a distinction without a difference,” she said. “Their goals are the same.”

Additional distinctions are that the transitional housing facility will have apartment-style accommodations, while the Wyndham shelter will use the hotel’s existing structure, mostly consisting of rooms with two beds.  

Credit: Celia Bernhardt

In lieu of a vote on Wyndham — community boards have no veto power on the matter of shelters — CB6 passed a resolution on Feb. 7 detailing a list of considerations it wants the city to take when opening the shelter. Those include a request that the two shelters-to-be share one Community Advisory Board, rather than operate separate ones, to ensure more thorough oversight of their combined presence in the neighborhood.

Dao Yin, a Flushing resident and current Democratic candidate for the state assembly who previously ran unsuccessful campaigns for Queens Borough President in 2020 and City Council in 2021, was among the speakers on Feb. 18.  

“No more shelters in Queens, in Brooklyn, in Bronx, in Staten Island, in Manhattan. No more shelters in this city,” Yin said. 

Chants of “Close the borders!” rang out after the speeches came to a close. 

Monserrate told the Queens Ledger that Yin’s disapproval of all additional shelters in the city was not the group’s official sentiment. 

“There’s a need for shelters,” Monserrate said. “What’s happening right now is an abuse and an oversaturation in this part of Queens. That’s our major issue: the oversaturation, one. And two, the homeless men. We don’t know who they are. A lot of them are formerly incarcerated.” 

While Wyndham will be the sole DSS-recognized homeless shelter in Community District 6, it is just across the Expressway from CD3, which houses East Elmhurst, Corona, Jackson Heights, and Elmhurst. Monserrate said that the area between Queens Boulevard and LaGuardia Airport, which includes CD3, currently has 15 shelters; the Queens Ledger could not independently verify that number. 

“It’s just saturated,” Kefalas said. “That’s why you’re seeing people coming from Elmhurst, East Elmhurst, Corona, LeFrak City, because they know we’re right on the border here where these neighborhoods literally interlock. And they know. We all shop at the same [shops] around here, we all eat, we use the same transportation. We’re intertwined. They know what’s going to happen. That’s why people are coming here even as far away as Brooklyn to stand with us to stop this.”

Credit: Celia Bernhardt

Beers-Dimitriadis said that a significant portion of protesters seemed to come from outside of Rego Park. 

“There are people who have come into our community from East Elmhurst and Corona, that don’t live here, that I think are here because they have genuine concerns with how decisions are made about shelters. I get it. But they don’t represent Rego Park/Forest Hills,” she said.

Beers-Dimitriadis said her read on the Rego Park/Forest Hills community is that it’s split into thirds on the issue. 

“One third has no idea it’s even happening. No matter how hard we’ve tried to reach out, no matter how many articles have been written in the paper, 10,000 posts on Facebook,” Beers-Dimitriadis said. Another third, she estimates, is supportive of it, and the remaining third is against it.  

“Our message is clear to the city of New York. We are sick of you dumping shelter after shelter,” Monserrate said. “Our city tax dollars are paying for it. And then no one’s even talking to us, the people. But today, the people are united.”

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