The city is moving dozens of homeless families into the old Pan American Hotel on Queens Boulevard in Elmhurst, the Queens Chronicle learned June 10, even though a top official had told residents on May 22 that it would not be doing that.
Along with area civic activists who had been concerned with the hotel's future after it closed, City Councilman Danny Dromm was caught by surprise when the homeless families started to be moved in last Friday.
"I am upset that I was only informed that 36 homeless families would be given shelter at the Pan Am hotel as it was actually happening at around 4:45 PM last Friday night," Dromm said in a prepared statement. "My office and our community were given no advance notice."
The councilman added that while he understands and supports the need to house homeless families, the 216-room hotel can hold more families than should be placed in one location, especially when there is another homeless shelter, the Metro Family Residence, just a block away.
Civic activists are furious over the move. Speaking at a May 22 hearing on a plan to use a former factory in Glendale as another shelter, a high-ranking official with the Department of Homeless Services, Lisa Black, had said the Pan Am would not be used as one.
As the Queens Chronicle reported on May 29:
"Some residents brought up a proposal earlier this year to turn the closed Pan American Hotel at 79-99 Queens Blvd. in Elmhurst, which has since reopened, into a shelter.
"Black confirmed the proposal was denied by DHS, citing the lack of a kitchen and a bathroom in each unit. Residents didn’t take too kindly to Black’s reasoning as some booed and shouted about the relative simplicity of renovating the hotel as opposed to the Glendale site."
The move was also topic No. 1 at Tuesday's meeting of Community Board 4.
A mayoral spokeswoman whose duties include address homeless issues told the Chronicle she would respond to the paper's questions Wednesday morning.
The homeless shelter a block from the Pan Am, the Metro, is one where the Chronicle's readers provide the children with hundreds of toys, articles of clothing and other gifts each year in the paper's Holiday Toy Drive.
Area residents plan to demonstrate outside the Pan Am at 6 p.m. June 17. The rally is being coordinated by the civic group COMET, the Communities of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together.
The proposed Glendale shelter would be located on Cooper Avenue, and is opposed by residents and elected officials concerned about overcrowding the area, the potential for contamination in the site's soil and other issues.