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Letters January 7, 2016  RSS feed

TIME TO CLOSE THE PAN AMERICAN HOMELESS SHELTER

Editor’s note: The following is an open letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio.

With the departure of Gilbert Taylor as commissioner of the Department of Homeless Services (DHS), we hope you will utilize this opportunity to address the faulty decisions made by Commissioner Taylor during his brief tenure, in particular, the approval to open a 216-room shelter in the ill-suited Pan American hotel.

Since the shelter opened in the congested neighborhood of Elmhurst in June 2014, without any notification or community input, the area residents, including local elected officials, have raised numerous concerns about the suitability of the facility to properly house homeless families with children.

The old Pan American hotel fails to meet city and state laws as well as DHS’ own Request for Proposal requirements to shelter homeless families with children. The building is not equipped with cooking facilities in each unit, as required under Section 21-124 of the NYC Administrative Code, nor does the shelter provide childcare services, as required by NYS Regulation 18 NYCRR Part 900. These regulations were enacted to help homeless families get back on their feet.

Why create a shelter that does not meet or comply with these regulations and criteria? Whether you agree with these regulations or not, why does the city continue to pay an exorbitant $4,000 every month to inhumanely house a family of four in one small hotel room, when apartments in the area rent for much less?

DHS, under former Commissioner Gilbert Taylor, made an ill-considered decision to place a homeless shelter in the old Pan American hotel. We are calling for you to rectify this matter by not awarding a long-term, permanent contract to the shelter operator Samaritan Village and by ceasing operations of the Pan Am hotel as a shelter. We ask that you begin to search for smaller, more manageable sites in which homeless residents can easily assimilate into the neighborhood, ensure that families are sheltered in a residential unit with a kitchen, and fully engage the Elmhurst community when siting a shelter.

Jennifer Chu, president, Elmhurst United