The following shelter-related events took place over the course of the summer and fall since the last issue of the Juniper Berry:
September 8th: Harshad Patel, owner of the Holiday Inn Express, told PIX11’s Jay Dow that he would not convert the hotel into a homeless shelter due to community opposition. We were told by several people not to believe this, and the city claimed at this point that they were proceeding as planned.
September 9th: Radio talk show host and activist Curtis Sliwa joined the protest at the Holiday Inn Express. He has been very supportive of our fight and has mentioned it at least once a week on his radio programs and during his regular segment on NY1.
September 13th: Democratic voters in Maspeth dumped 9-term incumbent Marge Markey in favor of newcomer Brian Barnwell. Barnwell went on to win in the general election on November 8th.
September 15th: We protested outside the home of Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Steven Banks. His neighbors were displeased. Banks claimed the day before we showed up that he had received threatening phone calls and filed a police report. We attempted to FOIL this information, but our request was denied.
September 17th: Protesters went to Oyster Bay to protest outside the home of Pamela Mattel, Chief Operating Officer of Acacia Network.
September 21st: While having dinner at O’Neill’s and discussing strategy, leaders of the fight were surprised by a phone call from a Bellerose community leader who had Harshad Patel in his living room. After being put on the phone, Patel agreed to sign paperwork drawn up by us that would prohibit the use of the Holiday Inn Express to shelter homeless. He promised to sign this paperwork the following Saturday morning before the commencement of a protest planned at 2 of his hotels in Bellerose.
September 24th: Harshad Patel failed to show up, so we joined the community of Bellerose in a protest targeting 2 of his shelters along Jericho Turnpike. We then marched to his home in Floral Park and protested there. While this was happening, DHS treated the children living in the shelter to a museum trip. Meanwhile, mayoral spokeswoman Aja Worthy-Davis followed us and filmed us in order to obtain footage to be used in propaganda videos release by the de Blasio administration.
October 2nd: We joined the community of Meadowmere to protest a Holiday Inn there that has had 2 of its floors converted into a men’s shelter.
October 7th: State Senator Tony Avella, Councilman Barry Grodenchik and Assembly Members David Weprin and Michaelle Solages announced that the Department of Homeless Services agreed to stop using the two Bellerose hotels we protested within 60 days.
October 8th: Our first official fundraiser, organized by Alicia Vaichunas and Kim Caruana, was held at O’Neill’s. The effort raised $12,535 to pay for transportation to additional road trip protests.
October 10th: The city announced that it had moved 30 homeless men into the Holiday Inn Express over Columbus Day weekend and would continue to increase the number sheltered there so long as there were rooms available.
October 12th: An evening visit to Harshad Patel’s house was made by a busload of protesters.
October 15th: We joined Sunset Park to protest the conversion of multiple hotels in that community into shelters. Once again, we were followed by Aja Worthy-Davis. This time she decided to live-tweet the protest and got called out on it in front of the entire crowd. A homeless resident of the former Sleep Inn on 49th Street came out to tell us how bad the conditions were inside and the lack of help offered to residents by service provider Samaritan Village and the Dept. of Homeless Services. Curtis Sliwa attended and spoke. The crowd then descended on Steven Banks’ house a second time.
October 18th: Manny Caruana and Christina Wilkinson visited South Jamaica to speak with residents there who already are dealing with multiple shelters. They fear a new hotel planned for the area will eventually also convert into a shelter as its location is not ideal for travelers. Information was shared and networking took place.
October 19th: During a meeting of the Borough Board held at Queens Borough Hall, DHS Commissioner Steven Banks revealed that Elizabeth Crowley was made aware of the city’s plan for the Maspeth homeless shelter back in June 2016 – a full 2 months before the secret meeting at the Maspeth Library that she attended and acted surprised at. Banks’ spokesperson later clarified that he actually had met with Crowley on May 19th and discussed the proposal at length. Also on October 19th, State Senator Joe Addabbo revealed during a debate in Rockaway that all of Queens’ elected officials were called into a meeting at City Hall back in 2014 and made aware by Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Emma Wolfe that the borough was about to be deluged with shelters. For some reason they chose to sit back and wait for it to happen instead of notify their constituents and fight the plan.
October 21st: We descended on City Hall in the pouring rain to join elected officials, homeless residents and groups from other neighborhoods to denounce the way that de Blasio’s administration is mishandling the homeless crisis.
October 25th: The group of protesters visited the Nassau County homes of Harshad Patel’s partners/property managers, who happen to be married to his daughters.
October 26th: Maspeth came out to support the East Elmhurst-Corona Alliance during their protest of the Marriott Courtyard near LaGuardia Airport that they believe the city planned to use as a shelter. The city denied it. We’ve heard that before.
October 26th: KCM Realty Company, land owner of Mendon Plaza, where the Holiday Inn Express is located, filed a lawsuit against Harshad Patel and New Ram Realty, owners of the hotel. The filing reveals that the reason the hotel was not converted into a full shelter is because according to a clause in the lease, the property owner, KCM, must consent to a subtenant. The owner adamantly refused to do so. The lawsuit alleges that what DHS/Acacia (under the name Promesa) and Patel tried to do was an end run around this rejection by changing their terms of their agreement. An answer by New Ram is due by November 28th.
October 27th: Comptroller Scott Stringer attended the Juniper Park Civic Association meeting and discussed the results of an audit he completed which revealed that oversight of shelter safety was lacking and that the homeless often fail to receive proper services. A homeless family staying at a Brooklyn shelter attended and requested his assistance in obtaining a move into a more secure location.
November 1st: Several Maspeth protesters joined the East Elmhurst-Corona Alliance in protesting a Holiday Inn Express in Corona next to the Long Island Expressway that is not fully opened yet but is already housing homeless families.
November 2nd: Protesters revisited Harshad Patel’s home and that of Pamela Mattel, COO of Acacia Network.
November 10th: Protesters revisited the Nassau County homes of Harshad Patel’s partners/property managers.
November 14th: Lincoln Restler, Senior Adviser to Mayor de Blasio, one of those responsible for bringing us the Holiday Inn Express debacle, posted a controversial photo on his Facebook page showing his family at an anti-Trump protest. They held up cardboard signs, one of which said, “F@ck Whiteness”.
November 15th: We again attended a meeting in South Jamaica in an effort to support their fight against additional shelters in their community.
November 16th: More than 50 protesters visited Greenpoint to protest outside the home of Lincoln Restler, to denounce his racist tendencies and call for his firing. City Hall defended him instead of relieving him of his duties.
November 19th: Our second official fundraiser, also organized by Alicia Vaichunas and Kim Caruana, was once again held at O’Neill’s. The effort raised additional money to be put toward lawyer fees.
We will continue to publicize our fight and join forces with other communities until the City changes its methods of housing the homeless and Albany changes the ridiculous “right-to-shelter” law that brings an unending stream of homeless people to NYC.