Amid frequent outbursts that resulted in at least one attendee being given a police escort out, a crowd of an estimated 300 area residents, concerned about conversion of the Westway Motor Inn into a potentially permanent shelter for homeless families, filled the auditorium for a town hall meeting at the Museum of the Moving Image on Wednesday, but in the end many questions were left unanswered.
The elected officials on the panel, Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria), state Senator Jose Peralta (D-Queens), and Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria), all of whom have expressed concern over the suitability of the inn as a shelter, were joined by representatives of the Department of Homeless Services, social services provider Women In Need, Community Board 1 and the 114th precinct.
Rose Marie Poveromo, president of the United Community Civic Association, hosted the event, and, with regularity, had to call for order as the crowd repeatedly threatened to get out of hand.
On July 9, the inn, located at 71-11 Astoria Blvd., was "surreptitiously converted to a permanent shelter," Poveromo said in her opening remarks.
"It was a deliberate, furtive and covert operation reeking of disrespect of our local elected officials, community leaders and the community at large, all sensitive to the crisis but deeply concerned with possible consequences."
There were many questions and concerns expressed by residents, namely, whether the conversion is temporary or permanent.
"It's difficult to answer that question," said Lorraine Stephens, first deputy commissioner for DHS. "The city of New York is aggressively working to move as many people out of shelters as possible."
Another concern was lack of sufficient security at the facility, which one official said has 24-hour manned security. Still, area residents indicated that residents of the shelter have been seen coming and going at all hours of the day and night despite a supposed curfew and that crime has been on the rise since the conversion took place.
Despite a series of questions asked of Stephens, so many issues were never clarified.
One irate audience member eventually shouted out, "Anybody know anything here?"
When an audience member inquired as to whether any environmental studies were conducted, Stephens replied, "We'll get back to you."
Another person asked if the residents in the shelter are in this country legally, prompting a DHS representative to say, "We're not going to answer that question."
As the meeting entered its third hour, Poveromo announced that an estimated 100 people were in the outer lobby, unable to gain admission to the already packed auditorium.
As a result, another meeting will be scheduled to allow all concerned to air their views.