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Residents Of Long Island City Neighborhood Upset Homeless Shelters Keep Popping Up All Over

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- A Queens community says it's in crisis.

Some residents say they went from having one homeless shelter in the area to almost a dozen since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and all of them are within several blocks of each other.

As CBS2's Lisa Rozner reported Wednesday, people who live in the neighborhood say the city isn't providing enough resources.

Deli owner Alberto Rodriguez showed the 10 stitches in his head and the black eye he got in a fight last week at his store.

He said when he refused to illegally give cash back to a prepaid food benefit card, customers attacked.

He said the regulars are from one of the eight nearby hotels that have been turned into homeless shelters since 2020, and now he needs four employees just to safely close the store.

Residents believe there is also a halfway house with some sex offenders within a few hundred feet of a school and daycare center.

It's all within the confines of a small neighborhood in Long Island City known as Dutch Kills.

"The city put 2,000 people that desperately need help in less than a five-block area," said George Stamatiades of the local civic association.

"It's not because they're bad people. The services aren't there for them," restaurant and bar owner Richard Madrid added. "We are just getting dumped on."

Madrid just opened DKPublic Restaurant and shared video of someone lighting themselves on fire outside in front of customers.

The co-owner of Nesva Hotel -- operating for visitors -- said thefts like a laptop being stolen are common, as well as non-guests loitering in the small lobby.

"How do I train my staff to deal with mentally ill people? It's a thing that's difficult," Nestor Varela said.

The church next door is now also locking its doors after trespassers were using it for sexual activity.

"They just defecate all over the place. There's a mess everywhere," Varela said.

On Wednesday afternoon, CBS2 saw what some said is a daily occurrence -- cops and an ambulance called to a shelter.

With five empty hotels, residents said they worry that Mayor-elect Eric Adams will transfer more at-risk residents to the neighborhood.

Evan Thies, a spokesperson for Adams, said, "As a former police officer who made public safety the focus of his campaign, Eric would would not put communities at risk with an irresponsible approach to homelessness, including expansion of the shelter system. Instead, Eric is proposing to convert hotels to affordable housing through a process that would involve criteria for potential new residents, as well as community input and planning to add any additional social supports and public safety improvements needed."

"I've been living here 75 years," despondent local resident Steve Morena said.

He said this time his cries for help to the local councilman, police and social services are falling on deaf ears.

One woman who stays at a  neighborhood shelter said residents are welcoming.

"Everybody is open. Everybody is helpful," the woman said.

But she said she feels the city is not providing a pathway for people to find jobs.

The NYPD says overall crime in the 114th Precinct, which encompasses multiple surrounding neighborhoods, is down almost 32%.

The spokesperson did not address residents' requests for more police presence and declined an on-camera interview with the precinct's commanding officer.

A spokesperson for the city's Department of Social Services said it's planning to close five of the eight shelters, but didn't provide a timeline.

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who represents the area, did not get back to CBS2 for comment.

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