Hundreds of Maspeth, Queens residents marched along Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Steven Banks's treelined Windsor Terrace street on Thursday night, blowing whistles and chanting "Banks has gotta go!" and "Liar!"
Protests have mounted since August, when DHS announced plans to convert the Holiday Inn Express at 59-40 55th Road into a 110-bed homeless shelter for adult families. This was the Queens residents' first demonstration in brownstone Brooklyn. Neighbors said that Banks was not home.
Maspeth has arrived. If you were wondering, this doesn't require an NYPD permit. pic.twitter.com/kLEhL12WGT
— katie honan (@katie_honan) September 16, 2016
Earlier this week, the Commissioner filed a formal aggravated assault complaint with the NYPD, over what he said were numerous threats regarding the shelter plan. Banks has also been targeted at recent public hearings on the proposal—earlier this month Maspeth residents booed and turned their backs on him en masse.
"Intimidation and threats are not how we resolve problems in New York City," said Mayoral spokeswoman Aja Worthy-Davis in a statement ahead of the protest. "The City will continue to engage with community members regarding this proposal, but New York City will not stand for the harassment of a government official and his family at their home."
"Since when are peaceful protests equivalent to 'intimidation and threats'?" countered Robert Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association in Maspeth. "As I recall, it was Mayor de Blasio who made sure he got arrested protesting the closure of Long Island College Hospital."
"No one has said people don't have the right to peacefully protest," Worthy-Davis responded. "But that's not the only tactic being used here."
Maspeth residents against a homeless shelter protest in front of HRA Commissioner Banks' home in Windsor Terrace pic.twitter.com/75ycscEXM5
— Jennifer Hsu (@jennhsu) September 16, 2016
Thursday's protest followed news late last week that Holiday Inn Express owner Harshad Patel wanted to back out of the deal. Continual protests outside the hotel, he said, are hurting his business. "We have decided not to go against the community as of today," he told Pix11 last Thursday.
Holden said his group contacted Patel seeking a sit-down meeting about a month ago. "We said, 'We imagine your business is being hurt. We could sit down and talk,'" Holden said. According to Holden, "He told me he wanted to get out." Patel did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Appearing on The Brian Lehrer Show this morning for his weekly "Ask The Mayor" segment, Mayor de Blasio said of the Maspeth shelter, "The plan is alive," adding, "we still have more work to do." He went on to make a case for community-based shelters, alluding to city statistics that 243 homeless New Yorkers have their last known address in Maspeth. Locals vehemently dispute this city statistic.
On Maspeth homeless shelter, "the plan is alive," @BilldeBlasio says adding, "we have a lot more work to do."
— Brigid Bergin (@brigidbergin) September 16, 2016
"We're not going to be intimidated by protests" @BilldeBlasio says of protesters who've gone to Steve Banks home to protest shelter
— laura (@nahmias) September 16, 2016
Spokeswoman Worthy-Davis told Gothamist Friday that "negotiations" on the shelter are still underway.
DHS initially predicted an October 1st opening for the Maspeth shelter, then conceded that the approval process would take a bit longer.
"We're still trying to negotiate this deal. That's where we are," Worthy-Davis said.