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Queens Chronicle

The homeless shelter surprise

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Posted: Thursday, June 12, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 11:23 am, Thu Jun 19, 2014.

The people of Elmhurst and surrounding communities think the city misled them, and while officials deny it, it’s easy to see why the residents feel the way they do.

At issue is how the Department of Homeless Services has turned the former Pan American Hotel on Queens Boulevard into a shelter for undomiciled families. That happened last Friday, apparently with no advance notice to the area’s city councilman, Danny Dromm, or Community Board 4.

In fact, it was just the opposite. Rumors had been swirling for months that the city might house homeless people there, but at a May 22 hearing on another shelter plan in Glendale, a DHS deputy commissioner insistedthe Pan Am would not be used for emergency housing. The rooms don’t all have kitchens and bathrooms, the official said, so the shuttered hotel could not be used as a homeless shelter.

But in the span of just two weeks, something changed, and now it’s a shelter. Community Board 4’s district manager was notified in two letters, one from the DHS and one from Samaritan Village, the agency operating the facility, dated June 6, the day the city started moving people in. Dromm also was notified June 6.

There’s no law requiring a hearing on a homeless shelter plan, even though one was held on the one proposed for Glendale. And there’s no law that says two homeless shelters can’t be located a block apart, but that’s all that separates the Pan Am from the existing Metro Family Residence.

In light of the sucker punch the city just laid on Elmhurst, maybe both those things should change. Let’s have mandatory hearings, and let’s make sure shelters are spaced out, to be fair to the residents who live near where they are placed. In this case, the city’s most overcrowded school district will now be taking in even more students.

Just about everyone agrees the city must house homeless people somewhere, especially families. Our collective conscience says we must do that for those down on their luck. In fact, the Metro is one of several facilities where children benefit every year from a holiday gift drive the Chronicle runs and our readers generously contribute to. But shelters can bring problems, and overburdening any community with two just a block apart is unfair. We hope that what just happened in Elmhurst can lead to reforms of the system to ensure it won’t happen next where you live.

Welcome to the discussion.