April 19, 2022 By Allie Griffin
Queens Community Board 2 is demanding the city make good on long-overdue promises it made to homeless shelter residents and neighbors in a small stretch of Long Island City near Sunnyside.
The local board penned a letter to the city last week demanding the city create green space, build parks and playgrounds, upgrade existing infrastructure and improve shelter conditions and safety in the Blissville section of Long Island City.
The City promised these projects to residents there more than four years ago — when officials announced the opening of three homeless shelters in Blissville in 2018 — but it has yet to deliver any of them, according to Queens CB2.
“[City officials] made promises to us in 2018, to the sheltered residents, that they would work towards improving the community,” Thomas Mituzas, co-chair of the board’s Unhoused & Shelter Taskforce, said at an April 7 community board meeting.
“They stood up in front of us and said, ‘we’re going to bring you a park, we’re going to help infrastructure, we’re going to do this for the shelter — the north star shelter is going to be the first state-of-the-art shelter in all of New York City,'” he continued. “Since 2018, none of these promises have ever appeared.”
The board also described deteriorating management and care of residents at three of Blissville’s four shelters — the North Star Shelter, the Borden Avenue Veterans’ Shelter and the temporary shelter at the City View Inn — which are located within a mile of one another.
- “Over the years and especially the last year we have seen a steady decline in the care of our sheltered and the communities that host the shelters,” Mituzas said.
He described instances of dangerous shelter conditions, potential financial mismanagement and shelter providers stonewalling the community.
Community Board 2 broke down various problems at three of the four shelters in its letter addressed to the mayor, public advocate, city comptroller, council speaker and others.
First, the board noted that the temporary shelter at the City View Inn is still housing individuals experiencing homelessness when the Department of Homeless Services said it was phased out of the city’s shelter program in the fall.
A fire inside the hotel last month that was allegedly set by an arsonist injured eight people — who were all DHS clients, according to the CB2 letter.
A spokesperson for DHS declined to comment whether the hotel was still being used to shelter the unhoused, citing state privacy laws.
However, the agency said the department is determined to end the use of hotels as shelters in the area.
“We are committed to phasing out our use of commercial hotels in this community while continuing to ensure that at every DSS-DHS site we are providing the kinds of services and supports our clients need and deserve as they get back on their feet,” the spokesperson said.
The board also said that all three shelter providers have failed to communicate with board members and residents.
It said the City View has stonewalled residents and board members. Because it is a temporary shelter — albeit in operation for four years — the provider told board members it’s not required to meet with them, according to the letter.
Meanwhile, communication between the provider at North Star Shelter and the community has also deteriorated, CB2 wrote. The board said the community advisory board that oversees the shelter treat public meetings as an “afterthought”.
The operator of the Borden Avenue Veterans’ Shelter also has stopped communicating with the CB2 chair since January 2022 despite numerous complaints from both residents of the shelter and nearby business owners regarding drug use, violence and weapon possession.
The DHS spokesperson didn’t address the specific concerns listed in the letter but provided a general statement to the Queens Post.
“As part of our moral and legal obligation to provide shelter to vulnerable New Yorkers, this Administration is committed to ensuring that every community has enough social safety net resources to help their neighbors in need,” the spokesperson said. “As part of this mission, DSS-DHS is focused on providing high-quality services to New Yorkers experiencing homelessness, which is reflected in our unprecedented investments to improve conditions across the shelter system and the significant progress we’ve made phasing out the use of sub-standard, stop-gap measures.”
Queens Community Board 2 also condemned Mayor Eric Adams’ proposed budget cuts to DHS.
The preliminary budget cuts about $530 million from the Department of Homeless Services — from $2.58 billion in FY22 to $2.15 billion in FY23. Much of the cut is due to the loss of COVID-19 federal funding which supported services like free hotel stays to protect people from COVID-19.
The board said shelters need to be improved so that the homeless do not fear them and opt to live on the streets instead. It implored city electeds to ensure all residents — including those living in a private home, those in a shelter or those living on the streets — have a safe environment to call home.
“My neighbors and I — we have wrapped our arms around our new neighbors,” Mituzas said. “I cannot say the same for the agency that is supposed to care for our homeless, DHS.”