Homeless in a Queens Neighborhood Could Soon Outnumber the Residents

Nothing stays in Blissville by accident.

It is an industrial neighborhood in Long Island City, Queens, with 12 streets to its name. It is bounded by the Long Island Expressway to the north, First Calvary Cemetery to the east and Newtown Creek, the site of one of the largest oil spills in the country, to the south and west.

Most of the things made here leave, except for the people. A majority of Blissville’s nearly 500 residents are decades deep into life there, enjoying the bonds of a tight-knit community set well off the beaten path.

Now, however, the prospect of new residents who are homeless is sowing tension in the neighborhood.

In the past year and a half, two temporary shelters, housed in former hotels, have opened, and much to the ire of residents, a third shelter that would not be temporary is on its way.

The city government, in its never-ending quest to shelter the more than 60,000 homeless people on New York City streets, began paying for hotel rooms to house them and hiring providers to supply services under Mayor Michael Bloomberg when he took office in January 2002.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has released a plan to phase out this system, calling it too costly, but for now Blissville is bearing the burden.

Once the new shelter opens this year, the homeless population, estimated at 575, would become larger than the neighborhood’s current count of 482 permanent residents. The phenomenon has led the neighborhood to mobilize against the influx of homeless people.

Maria Davis, 52, who serves as the vice president of the Blissville Civic Association, a group formed to oppose the homeless plan, said she believes the community is too small for the shelters.

“Why are they taking up all these hotels here and filling them up with homeless people and spending millions and millions and millions and millions of dollars?” she asked. She suggested that the city should instead invest the money in affordable housing. “Everyone wants to know what’s going on, and it’s really sad. It’s really sad.”

Mrs. Davis reluctantly moved to Blissville 17 years ago, she said, because it was the only neighborhood she could afford to live in with her husband and two daughters. The nearest subway station was a mile away, and there is no grocery store or school in the area.

She said she came to see the isolation and quiet as a benefit, and does not want the neighborhood’s atmosphere to change.

Mrs. Davis and her neighbors blame shelter residents for a spate of graffiti and litter appearing on the streets, and believe they have been dealing drugs and breaking into vehicles. Residents could not provide any non-anecdotal evidence, however.

Residents of Blissville, a heavily industrialized neighborhood in Queens, on their way to work. Many residents oppose a homeless shelter planned for their neighborhood. Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech/NYT Institute

Jaclyn Rothenberg, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeless Services, released a statement that attempted to focus on the future.

“Our plan distributes resources and responsibility in a fair way for the first time in our city’s history,” she said. “This decades-old challenge wasn’t created overnight and it won’t be solved overnight, but we are headed in the right direction.”

Jimmy Van Bramer, a member of the New York City Council who represents the neighborhood, said that whatever the ultimate plan was, he was concerned that the city was not addressing the current problem.

He said it seemed that whenever the Department of Human Services needed another shelter, “they go right to Blissville.”

“We’re willing and able to work with the situation, understanding that we all have a role to play in protecting the most vulnerable among us,” Mr. Van Bramer said. “But when the administration announced the plans for the first permanent new shelter literally across the street from yet another shelter, I think they all stood up and said, ‘Wait a minute, what’s happening here?’”

Shelter residents said they are being scapegoated for the community’s ills.

Lucky Francis, 25, who has lived in one of the shelters for months, said he felt tension from longtime residents when he walked around in the area.

“Can you imagine when, like, dawn or dusk when people are actually really out, and I’m walking through here, they be looking at me sort of awkward,” Mr. Francis said. “I used to be like, ‘How do I get to this place?’ And nobody would try to help me. No one at all. Everybody used to be like, ‘I don’t know, I don’t know,’ like I was going to rob them or something.”

CORE Services Group, a Brooklyn-based human services organization that operates one of the shelters, the City View Hotel, would not allow The Times to speak with anyone running the shelter. A security guard and supervisor intervened during an interview with several men in the City View parking lot.

When contacted by telephone, personnel at Home Sweets, operators of another shelter, hung up without comment.

CORE Services was the subject of a 2012 investigation by The New York Times that found the company, operating under a different name at the time, was running a halfway house where drugs were present and residents did not receive the services they needed. Last year, as part of the dismissal of a lawsuit against CORE related to a Crown Heights shelter, it operates, it agreed to improve security and limit the housing to men age 62 and older.

Whatever the community tensions in Blissville, Mr. Francis said he still considers himself fortunate.

“I really hope that this business keeps running, because it’s helping right now,” Mr. Francis said. “I’m not gonna be here forever. It’s just a stop at the store, you know. I know I’m not going to be here forever.”