ASTORIA – Residents of Astoria, its representatives and civic organizations are outraged over the decision of New York City’s Department of Homeless Services to approve the conversion of the Westway Motel into a shelter for more than 100 homeless families.
Local leaders have issues both with the inappropriateness of the location and the agency’s failure to give advance notice to the community of the decision that was first announced in July 2014.
On January 15, Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas, City Councilman Costas Constantinides, and State Senator Jose Peralta spoke at a DHS hearing that was attended by more than 100 people and will determine whether the Women in Need (WIN) organization receives a four-year contract worth $24 million to operate the shelter.
In recent years, the 121-room motel was used as a temporary emergency overnight shelter.
Simotas, who initiated a law suit against New York City and the DHS over the matter in November 2014, said, “Today my colleagues and over 100 of my constituents attended a public hearing to have our voices heard for the first time in this process…from day one, DHS has ignored the needs of shelter residents and the Astoria community. I sued the city and spoke out against DHS’s heavy handed tactics because we deserve a voice in this process.”
Simotas also expressed humanitarian concerns echoed by Constantinides.
“The residents deserve more than just a roof over their head. They deserve a location that serves their families’ need, including 243 children who were there the night before the hearing…This is a location known for drugs and prostitution and a not well-maintained building,” Constantinides said.
He called DHS actions a double insult: “First they locked us out of the initial process, and when we finally get a public hearing, it’s on a Thursday morning at 10AM.”
Constantinides seeks a provider “that can work with the community in a meaningful way and meet the needs of the families…WIN has not demonstrated it can do that.”
He noted the facility is far from parks, social services offices, markets, the subway or schools. “It borders the Grand Central Parkway on one side, St. Michael’s cemetery and one a two family homes,” he said.
“And I am tired of hearing that community and elected officials are against these families…we are standing up with these families.”
Had DHS approached them from the start, Constantinides said they could have worked together to find a suitable location.
At press time, neither DHS nor WIN have responded to TNH’s requests for comment.