BY JORDAN GIBBONS
As the City continues to implement methods to counter the rising numbers of homeless families and individuals, communities throughout Queens have been struggling to deal with the burdens caused by this historic crisis.
Next week, Community Board 12 will vote on a resolution that asks for a moratorium on expanding and building homeless shelters in the area for several years.
Adrienne Adams, chair of CB 12, said that the board has been requesting this for years, but it has fallen on deaf ears.
Over the last few months, residents and elected officials in Elmhurst, Astoria, the Rockaways and Glendale exhibited varying degrees of pushback against shelters that eventually became permanent, in Elmhurst, Astoria and the Rockaways, or are currently being proposed, in Glendale.
While Adams said the community is not against homeless shelters in general, the area is overburdened with them already. There are already 10 shelters in CB 12, while all of Queens has 21, which is significantly lower than the amount in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx.
“We’re definitely sympathetic to the need for services,” she said. “Our resources are stretched and we’ve had enough. It’s more about equity within the entire Borough.”
Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton), who represents the Rockaways and several Southeast Queens neighborhoods, said that his communities have traditionally carried the burden for far too long.
Richards added that a new shelter was proposed in the Rockaways, but Mayor Bill de Blasio made an executive decision to not place a second one there after seeing how the community suffered after Superstorm Sandy.
“It’s going to be a losing situation. You’re going to be compounding the different issues,” he said. “Without resources being added to these places, we’re going to fail them.”
The amount of people relying on homeless shelters has reached record numbers and is only going up. As of October, more than 59,000 people in the City are sleeping in shelters and more than 25,000 are children, according to the Dept. of Homeless Services, Human Resources Administration and NYCStat shelter census reports.
The Mayor does have three rent subsidy programs that just got started, which are aimed at transitioning families who have lived in shelters the longest, have full-time employment or have been recently affected by domestic violence. Families eligible for the Living in Communities Rental Assistance programs will be contacted directly by DHS and HRA. The programs are expected to help about 4,000 families transition into their own homes in the first year.
Patrick Markee, deputy executive director for advocacy at the Coalition for the Homeless, said that the implementation of the programs is good news, but the City has not seen the impact yet.
Markee said that one of the biggest concerns is the rising amount of family homelessness, since 80 percent of the people in homeless shelters are families.
“We haven’t seen that many families yet, because the policies are new,” Markee said, referencing the amount of families transitioning out of shelters. “Hopefully we’ll see that increase next year.”
In addition to the Mayor’s programs, another City official wants to take a closer look at homeless services available across the City and State.
Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills) is holding a hearing in Albany next week to figure out how to utilize funding to help diminish the staggering amount of struggling New Yorkers.
“Homelessness in New York City is at a critical mass. The numbers of homeless individuals, and particularly children, are at record levels with no signs of letting up,” Hevesi said. “The most vulnerable among us deserve a coordinated, efficient and effective response. This hearing will look at the problem from a macro perspective in order to make sure we bring every resource we have at our disposal to bare.”
As far as placing homeless shelters throughout Queens, DHS does not propose sites since the locations are submitted by shelter providers through an open request for a proposal process, a DHS representative said.
The agency has instituted a seven-day advanced notification process to educate and inform the community when there is a need to site a shelter. But, the opening of a new shelter can be expedited to ensure no families or individuals are turned away, since the City is required to shelter anyone who is in need throughout the five boroughs, the representative said.
Adams said she does hope that once the resolution is passed through CB 12 and forwarded to elected officials and City agencies, that their concerns are considered.
“We’re hoping that with all the eyes on the resolution that we will have satisfaction,” she said. “We need the City and DHS to step up regarding the equitable distribution of all communities throughout the entire Borough of Queens.”
Reach Reporter Jordan Gibbons at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 123, firstname.lastname@example.org or @jgibbons2.