"The Pan Am shelter illustrates a fundamental problem in the city's services to homeless New Yorkers,” said Avella. “When it comes to site selection, rather than proactively finding suitable buildings capable of housing the homeless population, it settles for the first warehouse that presents itself.”
Stringer has temporarily rebuffed multiple attempts to make the shelter permanent, but now Avella and members of Elmhurst United are asking for a final decision to be made. They charge the facility is not safe and does not provide the essential needs of a family shelter.
“Let me be clear, we are not against homeless people or homeless families,” said Jennifer Chu, one of the event organizers. “Any one of us might find need of a shelter one day due to some unfortunate event. We are against the warehousing of men, women, and children in shelters and the exorbitant amount of taxpayer money going towards keeping the homeless homeless.”
Avella and other also took umbrage with the process of not including the local community in the decision by the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) and shelter operator Samaritan Village in choosing the Pan American site.
“This site also exemplifies the city's unwillingness to consult with the people in the community to come to a solution,” said Avella. “The people in this system deserve better, they deserve kitchens, they deserve to be treated with dignity.”
The site currently houses approximately 200 homeless families. Opponents say the city used an emergency declaration to avoid standard review procedures for opening the shelter.
“DHS simply circumvented request for proposal and Uniform Land Use Review Procedure processes and abused their powers into getting what they wanted,” said Anna Orjuela. “They did what was best for them and financially beneficial to Samaritan Village and the landlord, while the community of taxpayers and the homeless families were left holding the bag.”
Opponents want the shelter phased out and for the city to stop pushing for approval of the proposed $42 million contract with Samaritan Village.
“At this time, the most responsible and prudent decision DHS could make would be for an orderly phase out of this problematic and unsafe shelter,” said Orjuela. “This can be accomplished by not filling rooms as families are transitioned into permanent housing. This ensures that current residents are not evicted and new families are not moved into a sub-par facility.”
Other elected officials have also joined the growing opposition. Congresswoman Grace Meng wrote a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio after Stringer rejected the contract for a third time in early September.
“Perhaps the third time will be the charm,” said Meng. “As I have said, it is imperative that we address the needs of the homeless in our city, but those in shelters deserve to be housed in a clean, safe and well-maintained environment, and this facility is not that.
“This location has been plagued with numerous problems and poor conditions that have not served the homeless well,” she added. “In fact, it’s been a disservice to the homeless. I urge DHS to not resubmit its proposal for a fourth time.”