Aug. 10, 2021 By Ryan Songalia
Republican mayoral candidate Curtis Sliwa will be in attendance at a rally in Maspeth Wednesday to mark the fifth anniversary of a series of successful protests that led the city to drop plans to convert a local hotel into a shelter.
The rally will be held at the Holiday Inn Express, located at 59-40 55th Rd., where a rally was held in protest of a proposed shelter 5 years ago. Organizers expect about 100 people at the rally, which begins at 7 p.m. and will run until 8 p.m.
Protesters staged daily rallies in front of the hotel five years ago in opposition to plans by the city to turn the hotel into a 115-bed homeless shelter.
The pressure led the hotel’s owner, KCM Realty Company, to cancel plans to convert the building into a shelter, though some homeless people were housed there up until August 2019.
Wednesday’s rally is about more than just remembering a battle of the past.
The attendees will also be turning out to voice their displeasure with Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Steven Banks, according to Charles Vavruska, one of the organizers. The protesters will be calling for Banks to fired.
Banks, who was appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2014, had been shouted down by protesters at a 2016 community meeting in Maspeth while the proposed shelter was being debated. Hundreds of protesters then boarded charter buses and staged a demonstration in front of his home in Brooklyn.
“Under his reign, street homelessness has increased even as he’s imposed his dysfunctional shelters on communities that don’t want them and where they don’t belong,” said Vavruska, who also helped organize the 2016 protests.
Eric Adams, the current Brooklyn Borough President who won the Democratic mayoral primary in June, praised Banks in an interview last month with PIX 11, saying the commissioner “brought fresh ideas” and had done “amazing things” since coming into office in 2014. He added that “we’re not looking to just remove everyone” should he win the general election in November.
Sliwa, the Guardian Angels founder and talk show host who won the Republican nomination, was in attendance at the Holiday Inn protests in 2016.
He slammed Adams’ statements regarding Banks, whom Sliwa called “the number one blunder” of the de Blasio administration.
“Steven Banks better start looking for a new job,” Sliwa said at a press conference last month.
Vavruska says the community isn’t against homeless shelters, but against what he describes as the “dysfunctional” policies of De Blasio and Banks.
“The people that truly need help need to get the help, whether they have mental issues or they’re drug addicts,” Vavruska said. ”Putting them in hotels or these shelters, it seems like it’s just a way for these shelter developers to make money. It’s not really helping anybody, and we’ve seen that the more they build, the more the homeless population increases.”