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Queens neighborhood sounds off on new homeless shelter nearby

Josh Einiger on an unwelcome surprise in the Elmhurt neighborhood of Queens.
It's clear that this stretch of Queens Boulevard in Elmhurst has seen better days.

But now amid the collection of used-car lots and gentleman's clubs, the aging former Pan American hotel is becoming the city's newest homeless shelter.

On Tuesday evening, longtime residents rallied -- in their words -- to save their Elmhurst neighborhood community. A block from the boulevard, their middle-class neighborhood has endured for generations.

"We have a shelter two and a half blocks from here," said Roe Daraio, protest organizer. "We have an adult center over here. We have a state mental home down the block. People are really angry - they're tired of being dumped on."

Just after taking office, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio promised to help homeless children, more than 23,000 of whom rely on sometimes dangerous city shelters.

The Pan Am is part of the administration's strategy to place homeless families in more stable surroundings. As the number of families in emergency shelters grows, said a statement from the city's homeless services office, the administration is considering "all available options to address our capacity needs and meet our legally mandated right to shelter."

"In the short term, DHS is using the Queens Boulevard facility to provide essential shelter and supportive services to families with children," it said.

"I feel bad for these people that lived here and their unfortunate situations but you know what we've worked very hard to maintain this neighborhood," said protester Vincent Musorrafiti.

Tuesday night, Elmhurst homeowners said no one consulted them.

"I have a home here. I pay taxes. I don't wanna see anything like this in my community," said Laraine Donohue.

Protester Pete Kobel had another suggestion. "You don't wanna say not in my backyard, but why don't you put it up at Gracie Mansion?" he said.
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