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Queens Chronicle

Violence at the Verve vexes residents, cops

Precinct, CB 1 asking City Hall for help with the women at the shelter

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Posted: Thursday, February 25, 2016 10:30 am

Police and community leaders are appealing to the city for help, following a pair of violent incidents at a women’s homeless shelter in Long Island City.

Members of Community Board 1 plan to draft a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office and the Department of Homeless Services asking for “immediate assistance” at the shelter, which sits on 29th Street, at the former Verve Hotel, officials said.

The move came at the request of Captain Peter Fortune, the commanding officer of the 114th Precinct. Fortune was at a recent board meeting and detailed two violent incidents this month involving shelter residents, including one that resulted in an officer sustaining minor injuries. He asked the board to reach out to the DHS to better coordinate with police to increase security.

Though she was unable to get into specifics about what the letter will say, Florence Koulouris, the district manager for Community Board 1, said there are concerns not only about ensuring the protection of the women in the shelter, but also the surrounding community and police officers.

“We want everyone to feel good about the situation,” she said. “We want everyone to feel safe.”

The city opened the 200-bed shelter at the former luxury hotel last October, spurred by a rising number of single women entering the shelter system. The DHS this week said there is security on-site 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with four to six guards on duty throughout the day. It emphasized the safety of residents and the community is a top priority.

“As part of our 90-day review of homeless services, we are continuing to review security needs and will continue to work with community leaders as we do so,” the department said in a statement.

The number of incidents at the shelter requiring a police response in the months since it opened was unclear, but officials said the 114th Precinct has had to focus more resources at the site.

On Feb. 11, officers responded after reports of a dispute between residents. One woman is alleged to have struck her roommate over the head with a metal object. After being taken to the hospital, the woman head butted an officer and later struck another with a metal IV pole, according to police. A day later, police again responded to the shelter after a resident broke a metal detector and began throwing chairs and bottles around the lobby.

“The reports from the 114th Precinct are disconcerting,” City Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) said in a statement. “I have voiced my concerns about the shelter to the Department of Homeless Services and the Administration.”

Van Bramer added he was particularly troubled by reports that the provider of services at the shelter, Acacia Network, had not been doing adequate neighborhood patrols.

“The Administration has confirmed to my office that they will be adding additional security officers at the Verve shelter,” he said.

Not long after the shelter opened, officials acknowledged some concerns had been raised about overcrowding and residents loitering outside the building. But local business owners have also complained that residents have been harassing them and causing disturbances.

Jeff Franco, who works at the nearby LIC Deli & Grocery, said there have been instances of the women fighting, panhandling and stealing from the store. Those sorts of things can make others in the neighborhood, including tourists staying in hotels, hesitant to shop there, he said.

“Your business goes down because people don’t feel like coming here,” he said.

Ali, who works at the Saz Deli & Grocery on 31st Street but declined to give his last name, said he had called police on more than one occasion after incidents involving women from the shelter.

“They give me too much of a hard time,” he said.

According to Koulouris, Acacia is supposed to conduct neighborhood patrols in a marked car. But the service provider has said recently the car was out of service and it was instead doing patrols in private, unmarked vehicles.

Koulouris called that “unacceptable” and said there should be a visible security presence in the community. On a recent Saturday, a white SUV marked Sera Security could be seen outside the shelter.

Nevertheless, Koulouris said, Acacia made a promise to take care of its clients and be a good neighbor in the community.

“Right now, Acacia is not being a good neighbor,” she said.

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