March 2, 2018 By Nathaly Pesantez
A public meeting will take place in the coming days for the community to discuss the new homeless shelter on Van Dam Street that will occupy the current site of the Fairfield Inn by Marriott.
The meeting will be held on March 15 at St. Raphael’s Church, located at 35-20 Greenpoint Ave., from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The event, organized by the Department of Homeless Services, will deal with the permanent homeless shelter for adult families at 52-34 Van Dam St. expected to open this month.
The location will provide shelter for up to 154 homeless families, and is unlike the nearby temporary shelters at the City View Inn and Best Western that have opened up in recent months.
The Van Dam center, according to the DHS, will be a “high-quality transitional housing facility”, and will offer multiple services to help shelter residents, including health and mental health services, employment counseling, and housing placement assistance.
While news of one shelter opening after another has angered residents all over western Queens–it has especially weighed on the people of Blissville, the name of the small, remote neighborhood wedged between Sunnyside, Long Island City and Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
Many Blissville residents took to Thursday night’s community board 2 meeting to express their outrage and concerns about the Van Dam Street center opening in their area. The City View Inn, just a block over, houses 100 homeless men, and the Best Western a short walk away has been a shelter for homeless families since late September.
“I feel three hotels in Blissville is just too much,” said Barry Druss, a Blissville resident. “Blissville is a small community. It’s isolated. We can’t be dominated by all this homelessness. I’m sorry—the fear factor is just too high here.”
Druss, like many residents, claimed to see men outside the City View Inn smoking weed and drinking.“Police are over a mile away,” Druss said. “They don’t visit Blissville at all.”
Ronald Komito, who runs the Penske Truck Rental place in Blissville, claims there’s been an uptick in crime. “We have an increase in crime because of the shelters that are going up,” Komito said. “They are congregating and smoking in my trucks that are parked overnight.”
Another business owner in Blissville said the homeless population that currently occupies the City View Inn–which used to house homeless families but began sheltering single men in January–has changed the look and feel of the neighborhood.
“I have absolutely no problem with families next door to our facility,” said Erika Clooney, one of the owners of the Bantry Bay Pub on Greenpoint Avenue. “But over the course of the last six weeks, the demeanor of my neighborhood has completely changed.”
Clooney claims she’s had to call the police several times in the past couple of months, and recounted a recent event where two men allegedly stole two bottles of beer from the bar while a police officer was there. “I knew where they were coming from,” she said. “What he [the officer] told me was to lock the door.”
“I might have to start buzzing people into my business,” Clooney said. “That looks really bad.”
The bar owner said she’s put her entire life savings into the business, and is “terrified” that the new Van Dam shelter will mean loss of profits for her.
“I get most of my night business from the [Fairfield by] Marriott hotel,” she said. “My life savings is in this, and by the city doing this to me, they have just come with one swift brush and now completely could blow out my future.”
The 108th Precinct, which covers Blissville and the surrounding Long Island City area, could not be reached for comment by press time.
Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Long Island City), who has voiced his opposition to the amount of shelters the city has opened in his district, and with little community input, hopes the community will show up in droves to the upcoming meeting.
“I heard the testimony from many of the residents of Blissville, and I’m extremely concerned about some of the things that they were reporting,” Van Bramer said. “I want their voices to be heard.”
The councilmember said the mayor and the DHS are overloading the community with shelters, and have demonstrated poor planning by continuously opting for hotels to shelter the homeless.
“This is not about demonizing the homeless,” Van Bramer said. “This is about the administration having little to no solution and therefore choosing hotels in Long Island City and Blissville. We are doing more than our fair share.”
He added that the mayor and DHS, who have the sole power to site a shelter without any approval, should be open to changing course on the Van Dam location, even though the agency has firmly fixed on the site.
“If we are going to have a town hall meeting and listen to people then I think the administration should be open to changing their mind,” Van Bramer said. “If you’re not, then why bother having a town hall?”
The DHS said every neighborhood across the five boroughs has a part to play in addressing this citywide challenge.
“We remain committed to open, ongoing engagement with the community and look forward to discussing how we can most effectively work together to support New Yorkers in need as they get back on their feet,” said DHS spokesperson Isaac McGinn.
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