Community members fear that a homeless shelter will lower property values, cause crowding of competitive schools and pose safety issues for residents, who already feel the pressure of supporting another homeless shelter and a mental health facility in their neighborhood.
“When this was sold back in January, originally it was indicated that it was going to be a hotel/hostel. If you go on the website, you can see that it says you will be able to book a room, but when you call on the phone you get a robovoice and you can never actually book a room there,” said one resident who didn’t identify himself at another recent protest in front of the hotel. “For months, right until May 22, they were insisting it was going to be a hostel/hotel. Then suddenly, on June 6 at 4:45 p.m., 36 families were brought in and they signed the order, so now it’s going to be a homeless shelter.”
Douglas Apple, executive director for Samaritan Village, said, “We’re here to talk about the program that just opened a few blocks of here. We have coordinated with all the elected officials, the community board, and it is our intention to work closely with the board, to ensure that the Pan Am serves residents and is part of the community.
“We are not here to add problems, we’re not here to start issues,” he added. “We’d invite anyone who’s interested to visit any program of ours. We’d be happy to take people on tour to show the kind of program we run.”
Apple promised that each family who comes through Pan Am will receive full support from their own personal case worker
“This is a program right now that has 90 families,” Apple said. “These are mothers and children, fathers, individuals who through no fault of their own became homeless. We take our commitment seriously.”
Apple said there are security cameras in the hallways, as well as outside providing 24-hour security.
“We did move in without notice. We understand the concern that that raises, and we’re here to address that,” Apple said.
Outside, the noise from the crowd swelled and inside, people began to grumble, so Apple added, “I understand that there’s a lot of emotion behind this, but I would ask that we be respectful towards each other. We’re committing to that.”
The move comes on the heels of reassurance from Lisa Black, assistant director for the Department of Homeless Services (DHS), who told the board on May 22 that Pan Am was not suited for sheltering homeless families.
“The law in the city of New York requires all families with children to be sheltered in a facility that requires both a kitchen and a bathroom, so families are sheltered in apartment-style units,” Black said then. “The hotel that was presented to us is just that—the hotel does not have kitchens, it does not have bathrooms. As is, it is not suitable for families with children.”
Black said shortly afterwards that the contract for renovating the facility so it meets DHS standards would not cost more than $27 million, and that the cost of renovations to the hotel to accommodate residents would not be footed by taxpayers.
Lorraine Stephens of DHS said at the June 30th community meeting that the need for shelters in this city is currently overwhelming the department’s already strained resources.
“Today, we have about 54,000 people in New York City in shelters. Of that, we have 11,000 families and about 23,000 children,” she said. “This is not just a DHS crisis, this is a city-wide crisis. What’s happening in our communities, we’re not exactly sure of it. We need to make sure there are no families and children on the street.”