La Quinta Hotel Turning Shelter?

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There was much fanfare around the grand opening, all of 13 months ago.  State Senator James Sanders and City Councilman Donovan Richards hailed the launch of Rockaway’s newest hotel, The La Quinta Inn, at 43-17 Rockaway Beach Boulevard.  They welcomed the new owners, RiverBrook Equities, and dismissed worries that some residents had expressed – that the hotel would become a City shelter. It was not a day to worry but a day to celebrate. There was even hopeful talk that the group would look to do another hotel further east, in Far Rockaway.

That was in May 2016.  By August, online reviewers were saying there were homeless people being sheltered there.  Steven Mendel, Executive Vice President of Riverbrook Equities, said, “Incorrect and not true.  We charge every guest on a credit card and don't ask about background. So it maybe true that some of our guests have some sort of vouchers. It has nothing to do with us and we wouldn't know.”

There was a report that “battered women and children” were housed at the hotel through October 2016.  Ownership continued to deny any official agreement with the City regarding supportive housing.

For the past several months there has been very little news, good or bad, about La Quinta. In fact, online reviews have been largely favorable as travelers from all over the map have weighed in with opinions about the hotel in Edgemere. Although such reviews can’t be verified, many come from Trip Advisor and other sites that rely on regular contributors. 

Reviews might become a tad harsher should the fears of Community Board 14 District Manager Jon Gaska be realized. On Tuesday, Gaska received a phone call from the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) notifying him that the Community Board will be receiving what’s called a “Fair Share” letter.  Such a notice indicates that the agency will be considering the site to place homeless and will first review if the community already has its “fair share” of homeless. The letter follows policy language that can be quite specific so that “homeless” might be distinguished from other at-need populations. Gaska says his experiences tell him a “Fair Share” letter means it will be full-steam ahead.

When asked on Tuesday about reports that La Quinta was turning into a homeless shelter, Mendel said, “This is absolutely incorrect. It's completely false.  Thank you for verifying before printing. We do not plan on filling this hotel up with DHS guests. Perhaps they are mixing up the La Quinta with another.”

Gaska was given more than notice about more potential homeless coming.  The DHS spokesperson told him that “57 out of 99” rooms are already booked by DHS at the Rockaway La Quinta Inn.

The Rockaway Times asked Mendel about this but he did not reply.

A spokesperson for Councilman Richards said the owners of La Quinta showed no interest in accepting “more beds” from the City and that DHS had no specific or current plans for the hotel.  The Councilman’s rep said the “Fair Share” letter was sent to numerous lodging places because a spike in homelessness often occurs when schools close for the summer and educational options come into play for families and DHS must scramble to find living places for these families.

With the uncertainty and uproar on Facebook caused by the news that DHS was eyeing La Quinta as a shelter, the Councilman is expected to meet with DHS and the hotel owners to discuss the situation.

Senator Sanders did not get back to The Rockaway Times by press time.

Meanwhile, Riverbrook Equities has a website on which they say, “We invite you to book your stay at the La Quinta Inn & Suites Far Rockaway hotel where you and your pets can settle into comfort and exceptional hospitality.”

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