The residents of the tiny Queens neighborhood of Blissville have no problems with their neighbors to the east — the estimated two million souls sleeping eternally in Calvary Cemetery.
But lately, about 450 citizens of this sliver of a community, which is hemmed in by the Long Island Expressway and the Newtown Creek, are concerned with a new influx of residents. Those would be a few hundred homeless adult family members to be housed by New York City in a hotel, which they fear will create additional stresses Blissville simply won’t be able to manage.
Complaints about where the city decides to house the homeless have long been a part of the civic dialogue. For Blissville, the outcry is one of the more vocal against Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “Turning The Tide” plan to do away with sheltering homeless in temporary accommodations like commercial hotels in some of the boroughs. The issue of sheltering homeless in Blissville is getting some political traction. City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Queens), who represents the area, showed up at a recent town meeting to support the residents. He thinks the city should change its plans. Public Advocate Letitia James also has been contacted, residents said.
Named after 19th century shipbuilder Neziah Bliss, Blissville is one of those places few people outside Queens have heard of. The 1.1-square-mile triangular area has been — and still is — a middle class enclave in a mainly commercial area just east of the Midtown Tunnel. Despite a lack of such amenities as shopping and laundries, residents like the cozy living and intimate community.
“It is Bliss-ville. It is a quiet, tight knit community,” said resident Warren Davis, 51. “We made a choice to live here and we have resources, cars, each other.”
But the fear now for Davis and others in Blissville is that the city’s plan to bring in more homeless adults — there are already about 100 living in Blissville at the City View facility and scores more in a hotel just north of the expressway — will place more of the needy in a neighborhood locals say doesn’t have the ability to give them a supportive environment.
“We are becoming a shelter village and that isn’t doing anyone right,” Davis said.
During a recent meeting with city officials at St. Raphael Church, angry residents and members of the Blissville Community Association held up signs saying “Mr. Mayor Save Blissville,” as the overwhelming majority of speakers spoke against the shelter plan.
“The mayor has the ability to site these shelters regardless of what we say or what we do,” Van Bramer acknowledged.
But if de Blasio and Department of Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks took a good look at Blissville they would rethink their plan, he said.
“They should look at this and say you know what? — three shelters within several months within a seven block radius, that is too much for one community and maybe, just maybe he will do the right thing,” Landers said to applause at the recent hearing.
Giselle Routhier, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit Coalition for the Homeless, said record homelessness meant every community was going to have to play its part in helping address the problem. The ideal solution is the creation of “permanent affordable housing, but also possibly with the provision of emergency shelter.”
The Department of Homeless Services, which Banks oversees, said the city wasn’t trying to pick on Blissville. In a lengthy statement provided to Newsday, the agency said plans to house about 154 adult families in the Fairfield Inn by Marriott New York/Long Island City at 52-34 Van Dam St. in Blissville was part of the mayor’s “Turning The Tide” proposal. That is an effort to end the city’s 18-year expensive cluster program of using commercial hotel facilities and create transitional housing in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens.
The placement of homeless housing is done after an analysis at the community board level, covering an area of 100,000 people and not just one finite neighborhood that may be difficult to define with precision, the agency said.
As part of the push, the city is partnering with a nonprofit service provider, Home/Life Services, Inc., to provide on-site services for the Van Dam Street transitional housing, as well as off-site referrals.
Although the city plans to use the nonprofit agency to provide needed services to homeless people, Blissville residents don’t think that will be enough, particularly in such a small area.
“Our whole major argument is that it is not an adequate facility to be a permanent homeless shelter,” said Erica Clooney, about the Marriott site.
“There is no recreational room. There is no banquet hall. Where are they going to go?,” asked Clooney who co-owns the local Bantry Bay Publick House. “It is unfair for the homeless folks to be almost imprisoned.”
Clooney, 32, admits that she is worried that the use of the area hotels will cut into the business she receives from regular business travelers to the area.
DHS spokesman Isaac McGinn said the agency in terms of Blissville was “committed to continued engagement with this community and communities across the five boroughs” to create a long-term strategy for the homeless.
Routhier wouldn’t characterize the local opposition to more homeless in Blissville as just another example of the NIMBY stance — Not In My Back Yard. She said she believed community concerns could be addressed.
For Clooney, the issue is still one of fairness for her small neighborhood.
“It is not NIMBY. It is ‘why so many in our backyard?’,” Clooney insisted. “We are doing our fair share as a community.”