It’s a river away from the fight on the Upper West Side, but leaders at the Queensbridge Houses say the neighborhoods share something in common.
“We went to sleep, woke up the next day and we had all these different human beings in our community,” said April Simpson Taylor, the leader of the Queensbridge Houses Tenant Association.
Tears came to her eyes.
“They have severe mental illness,” Simpson Taylor said. "Defecating, urinating, right out in the street in front of people, walking down the street with hospital gowns on."
In the shadow of the city’s largest public housing development, at least eight hotels have been converted to homeless shelters. It’s a conversion done to protect homeless people from COVID-19. But just like it created controversy in Manhattan, it did here in Queens, too.
You just may not have not heard about it.
“There is shelters on every block down this corridor,” Simpson Taylor said, pointing to a stretch of 40th Avenue in Long Island City.
"I am hurt, disappointed and disgusted with Bill de Blasio,” she added.
During the coronavirus pandemic, her neighborhood has seen about double the number of hotels turned into shelters compared to the Upper West Side.
Still, the Upper West Side has drawn all the attention. But reported problems there are echoed here in Long Island City.
Turn down 12th Street just outside of this public housing project and you’ll find two new homeless shelters — formerly Wingate and Howard Johnson hotels.
Kenneth Bonner is staying in one of them.
“They turned it into a real shelter area,” Bonner said. "Maybe they did it because the projects are right here and they thought they wouldn’t get too many complaints. But it's not good for the community to have the type of people they have here without getting treatment."
Last week, the mayor said he would move homeless residents out of one hotel here in Long Island City — the LIC Plaza Hotel. He cited this specific hotel as an example of how he was listening to the concerns of Queensbridge residents.
“I’ll tell you the complaints I heard originally, as I said, Southeast Queens, I heard them at Queensbridge Houses when I was out there a few months ago, I went and saw for myself and the Upper West Side last week, and what I saw was not acceptable,” Mayor de Blasio said last week.
That plan is now paused after communities protested in Manhattan. But leaders here in Queens called the mayor's decision a smokescreen.
“When the mayor said he did this to be responsive to Queensbridge residents, that’s a lie,” said Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer. "This is a smokescreen to protect the outrageous, outrageous cave to wealthy white folks who couldn’t stand having homeless individuals in their community."
According to the local councilman’s office, at least eight hotels have been converted near Queensbridge Houses. The plaza hotel was further away than many others.
When we visited Monday, the hotel’s co-owner said he had no complaints.
“They are maybe ten blocks away and over here it's a very quiet, nice neighborhood and next door is a warehouse and the DOT office and a repair shop,” said co-owner Jack Fong. “It's an ideal location to help the city and help us as hotel owners during this pandemic time.”
The leader of Queensbridge said the same thing.
“That's a high maintenance hotel,” Simpson Taylor said. "There is no problems really there. The problem is really here.”