In February, the Skyway Family Center homeless shelter in South Ozone Park told the more than 90 families housed there that they would have to move. The notice came after Basics Housing, Inc. (BHI) proposed operating the Skyway Hotel as a male only shelter.
Neighbors and community groups complained that the families were given only a few days to find new homes and that the change could increase crime in the area.
Several community leaders said that notice of the transition was not provided in a timely manner.
“The Department of Homeless Services’ decision to transition a family shelter into a shelter for men … was not a good decision,” Betty Braton, chair of Community Board 10, said. “The Community Board was not consulted prior to this decision and the timing of the notice we received advising us of that change was less than satisfactory.”
According to DHS, Basic Housing Inc. notified CB 10 and local officials of their proposal on February 9 and DHS approved BHI to operate a male-only facility on February 10.
“Homeless Services has a mandate to provide temporary, emergency shelter to those in need,” DHS spokesperson Heather Janik said. “We have recently seen an increase in the number of adults applying for services and as such, the Agency must make judicious use of all its capacity as demand needs change.”
The Skyway Family Center, at 132-10 South Conduit Avenue, has served homeless families for several years. The change to the center was brought to public attention after PS 124 Principal Valerie Lewis noticed several of the children who lived at the Skyway were not showing up for school.
At a March 3 meeting at the school, parents expressed concerns about the change, including worries that men who could come to live at the shelter may congregate in nearby parks and that panhandling would increase.
“We would have rather seen a strengthening of the services by DHS for the families who were living there than the change in use,” Braton said. “There is considerable concern being expressed about how having a men’s shelter in close proximity to a school will impact the children and there is fear that there will be an increase in panhandling in the area.”
Braton said the 106th Precinct has been made aware of the change and is monitoring the area for changes in quality of life. According to the DHS, the center has 24-hour security, guards do perimeter walks at least two to three blocks on either side of the facility and security camera footage is viewed by a security guard at all times. Transportation to and from bus stops is also available for residents.
Additionally, the DHS and BHI have formed a Community Advisory Board to raise neighborhood involvement.
State Senator Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) said lack of notice played a big role in the negative response to the Skyway Hotel’s transition. “Many of thier residents called my office because they were dismayed,” he said. “People are more accepting if they’re given notice or if they can have input.”
The first Community Advisory Board meeting was held on Friday, March 11 at the offices of Community Board 10. DHS and BHI, along with other city agencies, hoped to mitigate issues surrounding the facility and give community members a chance to voice their concerns at the meeting.
The next meeting is scheduled for April 15, at the Skyway Family Center.
City Council Members Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) and Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica) have used the change to highlight another homeless issue in Queens—clustering. The Daily News reported that of the borough’s 18 shelters, 14 are in Jamaica. Janik told the Daily News that the distribution was fair because more than half of the borough’s homeless families are from the Jamaica area. Comrie and Wills plan to introduce legislation that would prevent new shelters from opening in community boards that already contain more than 20 percent of the borough’s shelters.
State Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven) said homelessness in Queens is an issue that must be addressed in the state as well as local districts.
“The problem of homelessness in Queens is a serious one that needs to be addressed,” Miller said. “In the Assembly, I am dedicated to ensuring that the State rent protection laws are renewed and that more affordable housing is created so we may one day reverse our current trend and begin putting people into homes instead of on the street.”
Written By David Harvey