The situation regarding the Pan American hotel's stealthy transformation into a homeless shelter earlier this month, which sent Elmhurst residents and elected officials into a frenzy, has taken an ugly turn
Over 900 rambunctious anti-shelter protesters and around two dozen of the shelter's occupants took part in evening-long dueling rallies across the street from each other tonight, June 30, outside of the Elks Lodge at 82-20 Queens Blvd.
Inside the building, officials from the Department of Homeless Services and Samaritan Village felt the wrath of angry residents and elected officials at a meeting to discuss the hotel's conversion, which was done without any community notice from DHS or Samaritan Village, on June 6.
A sizable gathering of a few hundred people, a vast majority of whom were of Asian descent, had already assembled outside the Goldsmith Street entrance of the Elks Lodge by 6:30 p.m., around the time state Senate candidate S.J. Jung addressed the roaring, sign waving crowd.
Two hours later, the rallies, both involving numerous young children actively engaging in chants, reached their testiest points.
Nearly 25 shelter occupants gathered across Goldsmith Street, which had been closed to vehicular traffic by police earlier in the evening, and begun screaming back at the much larger crowd, who were chanting "Get a job" and "Shame on you" among other phrases repeatedly.
Around 9 p.m., many of the shelter's residents, including 20-year-old Brittane Steinhauer who lives in the Pan Am building with her mother and infant daughter, left the area together, but not before demanding fair treatment from those opposed to the plan.
"It's not like these people are bums living in a subway station. These are mothers who need places for their children to sleep at night," Steinhauer said. "This isn't fair at all. They are saying these things because we're mostly black or Latino."
Fellow shelter occupant Melissa Glaum, 25, criticized the opposing protesters for being misinformed.
"They're telling me to get a job. Well, I have a job," Glaum said. "What they're doing is so ignorant."
This is the second protest regarding the Pan Am shelter in as many weeks, as nearly 1,000 people picketed outside the former hotel on June 17.
Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) attended the meeting and he applauded the Elmhurst community for coming out in droves to support the cause, but called the negative chanting "horrible" and "incendiary."
"The very first thing I asked for at the first protest was respect for the families that are currently housed in there," Dromm said. "They're not to blame for the way DHS and Samaritan Village have handled this situation."
A number of shelter residents also let loose their fair share of divisive comments, with a few telling those in the larger crowd to "go back to your country and leave us alone."
Inside the Elks Lodge, the mood was not as frenetic, but those opposing the shelter made their opinions heard loud and clear.
Samaritan Village Executive Vice President Doug Apple and DHS Assistant Commissioner of Government and Human Relations Lisa Black, along with state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing), state Assemblyman Francisco Moya (D-Jackson Heights) and Dromm listened to dozens of residents criticize the city for not allowing a public discourse before a decision to move homeless families into the neighborhood.
"We will not be bulldozed and stand idly by on the sidelines," one resident said. "Does anyone care to look at the larger picture?"
Both Apple and Black discussed how the shelter would cooperate with the surrounding area, with Apple detailing the upcoming formation of a community advisory board and around the clock hotline that would allow residents to report any suspicious activity.
At the height of the protests, 110th Precinct Deputy Inspector Ron Leyson said two sergeants and 18 police officers had been assigned to keep the peace. A police helicopter also was seen hovering overhead around 9 p.m.