Maspeth residents gathered yesterday to protest the city's decision to turn a Holiday Inn Express in the neighborhood into a homeless shelter, a move that elicited a strong negative response from the community at an event with the Department of Homeless Services Commissioner earlier this week.
About 25 protesters gathered near Maurice Ave & Borden Avenue—just around the corner from the proposed shelter site at 59-40 55th Road—and held up signs for passing motorists decrying the shelter. DHS has proposed the site house 110 beds for homeless families, and says there are 243 homeless individuals whose last known addresses were in Maspeth, countering claims from the community that the city would bus in homeless families from other neighborhoods.
Still, protesters are incensed, and at an event with DHS Commissioner Steven Banks on Thursday, many vehemently opposed the proposal. A video shows Banks claiming someone was "yelling at me in the front row saying, 'They [the proposed shelter residents] should go back to East New York,"—you can see the video below:
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams addressed the comments in a statement:
I am troubled by the sentiments shared by a number of individuals at a public meeting that discussed a proposal for an adult family homeless shelter in Queens. Homelessness comes from every corner of our city. We cannot accept any attempt to pit New Yorker against New Yorker, no matter how passionate we may feel about the quality of life issues in our communities. The select few who call out for homeless people to go ‘back to East New York,’ especially in the context of a gathering regarding a newly proposed facility and not a re-siting from that neighborhood, are raising a concerning specter of bias that must be addressed, be it on the basis of race, socioeconomic status, or any other factor.
Few understand and value public safety more than I do, as a 22-year veteran of the New York City Police Department. Additionally, I have felt firsthand the pain and uncertainty of a family struggling to keep a roof over its head, and I know the power that simple kindness and empathy has for the hundreds of thousands of our neighbors battling to make ends meet every day. The issues surrounding homelessness are difficult ones, issues that require a critical balance be struck. However, we cannot strike each other down in the process of addressing these issues.
A Queens blog claims the event attendees were misquoted, citing a video that shows a resident shouting, "This is not East New York," and not go "back to East New York." It is unclear whether Banks misquoted him or that the aforementioned quote was not caught on video, but still, the anger is palpable:
Residents say they're concerned about what the effect the homeless shelter, which is located near a playground, would have on crime and quality of life in the neighborhood. An online petition opposing the shelter had over 2,000 supporters as of this afternoon.