They want answers.
A rally was held by a group of organizations from several boroughs, including Brooklyn and Queens, outside four different hotels in Sunset Park that have been converted into homeless shelters to shine a light on and hopefully put a stop to a practice that some residents fear endanger the neighborhoods they call home.
Over 200 people attended the rally on Saturday, October 15, which began at 24th Street and Fourth Avenue.
“We’re not here to protest the homeless,” said attorney Delvis Valdes from Village of Sunset Park. “We’re not here against the residents of this shelter. We’re here to help the residents of the shelter. We want permanent solutions for these folks. We want them to get the help and assistance they need. We don’t want to stick them in a hotel and forget about them.”
“It pits neighborhoods against neighborhoods and it shouldn’t be about that,” added attorney Christopher Robles, legal representative for the Village of Sunset Park. “It should be about bringing people together. We are not against the homeless, but the (community) is entitled to notification. They are not vetting the people going in hotels. A kid could be attacked by residents in the future.”
Phil Wong of civic group Elmhurst United also spoke during the rally. “Just like our friends from Maspeth, we are here from Elmhurst and we are here to fight the same battle right here in Sunset Park,” he said, standing in front of one of Sunset’s hotels. “The rooms behind me cost $160 per night. You do the math and it’s $4,800 per month per room. Meanwhile you look at Craigslist and there hundreds of apartments for rent around here at one third the cost.”
Wong suggested that by declaring an emergency, Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) get to bypass public review. “They move people in during the middle of the night,” he said. “As of August 2015, there were 2,342 vacant apartments in the NYCHA system. They’re waiting for money to renovate these apartments so people can move in. Where is the funding? It all went to DHS. It didn’t go to NYCHA. So this homeless crisis is intentional. It’s all for profit and is a business.”
Maspeth resident Mike Papa blamed the mayor and Commissioner of the New York City Human Resources Administration/Department of Social Services Steven Banks for trying to blame the community. “Mr. de Blasio is trying to villainize us in order to cover up his administration’s wrongdoings and shortcomings regarding the homeless situation. The residents of Maspeth are not nimbys [not in my backyard]. We always will do what we can to help them but that does not include destroying the community that we live in.”
Anti-crime activist, founder and CEO of the Guardian Angels Curtis Sliwa also pinned much of the blame for the homeless situation on the mayor. “Whether from Maspeth, Sunset Park, or more than 30 other communities that have been so affected, this is not about taking care of homeless people, emotionally disturbed people,” he said. “His idea isn’t to take care of them or provide service, to get them medical or mental health care. His idea is to warehouse them off the street so he can bamboozle all of us, telling us he’s dealt with the homeless situation which he has been in denial of.”
“This administration believes that every community must share responsibility in housing homeless New Yorkers, and because the most effective tool against homelessness is preventing it in the first place, we’ve increased the number of tenants who’ve avoided eviction by 24%,” responded Aja Worthy-Davis, a spokesperson for the mayor in a statement. “An additional 45,000 residents have either exited or avoided shelter through our programs, and we’re building new affordable apartments in Sunset Park such as the Sunset Park Library project through partnerships with local elected officials.”