From Hotel to Homeless Shelter

In a city of skyscrapers and endless possibilities, New York City is also the ironic home to more than 60,000 homeless men, women, and children. In the past two decades, New York City’s homeless population has more than doubled and it shows no signs of slowing down. While many factors contribute to the city’s homelessness, skyrocketing rents and stationary wages are the primary causes. Since 2000, the average rents in the city have increased by nearly 20%.

To understand New York’s homelessness situation, one must only look to the law. In New York, citizens are entitled to government provided shelter if they are unable to afford it through their own means. The law, while good intentioned, places a large burden on the city when it comes to housing the homeless. The Department of Homeless Services (DHS) has resorted to renting rooms in the city’s hotels to house homeless New Yorkers, much to the disdain of nearby residents. This common practice creates animosity between the city, the residents, and the transient population stuck in between. What many fail to realize is that families and children make up a large percentage of NYC’s overall homeless population. There are more than 15,000 family units accounted for in the city’s homeless population and more than a third of NYC’s 60,000 homeless individuals are children under the age of 18. Many of these families and children are uprooted and displaced to unfamiliar neighborhoods, where they become targets of animosity and resentment by their new neighbors.

Recently, residents in Far Rockaway have voiced their outrage about the use of the La Quinta Inn on Rockaway Beach Boulevard to house the city’s homeless. Years before the hotel broke ground, residents were wary of the project, citing concerns about it being a guise to build a shelter in the neighborhood. While there’s been no word of an official transformation, more than half of the hotel’s rooms are currently being rented by DHS to house homeless families.

Using hotels to house homeless individuals and families is an issue across the city, but is especially rampant in Queens. According to Rob Mackay, the Director of Public Relations, Marketing, and Tourism at the Queens Economic Development corporation, there are over 110 hotels in Queens and many rooms are rented out to the homeless during lulls in tourism. Data released by the city shows that nearly 40 hotels were used to shelter the homeless. Part of the city’s dependence on hotels in Queens comes from a lack of permanent shelters in the borough. Queens has 26 permanent shelters compared to Brooklyn’s 93, the Bronx’s 87, and Manhattan’s 80.

Mayor de Blasio has committed to ending the use of hotels as shelters by the year 2023 and wants to build 90 new homeless shelters in the city over the next five years. The later part of his plan could result in an increase of permanent homeless shelters in Queens. His plan to curb the tide of homelessness in the city is not without recourse. One criticism residents have is that Mayor de Blasio’s homelessness plan calls for the construction of shelters in predominantly black and brown neighborhoods like Crown Heights. At a city council meeting in Crown Heights earlier this year, the construction of the new shelters outraged residents, who noted the difference in treatment between their neighborhood and that of Maspeth, Queens. Last year, Maspeth residents successfully opposed the transformation of one of their hotels into a homeless shelter. Maspeth is predominantly white and, as of now, has zero homeless shelters compared to Crown Heights and its surrounding district’s 19 shelters. While many residents understand the need for shelters, many are angered by their placement and feel that the government is purposely placing the shelters in black and brown neighborhoods throughout the city.

Looking back at Far Rockaway, only time will tell how this neighborhood will change, but residents can only hope that city will work to find lasting, preventative solutions to homelessness and housing instability rather than ineffective temporary measures.