Wyndham Hotel

Photo Courtesy of World Journal

Fresh Meadows residents have taken aim at the city’s decision to transfer Rikers Island inmates to a neighborhood hotel during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wyndham Garden Hotel, located in Fresh Meadows, has been used by the city to house more than 100 released detainees from Rikers Island during the COVID 19 pandemic—including two sex offenders—a move residents and elected officials say they weren’t notified of, according to a story in the World Journal.

State Sen. John Liu sent a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio earlier this month requesting the arrangement be short-term only, and that the tenants are moved out of the hotel before the school year starts in the fall. Chinese residents and businesses in the neighborhood collected more than 10,000 signatures on a petition against the arrangement which they plan to send to elected officials. They also won’t rule out the possibility of protesting. (Read the original story in Chinese.)

Located at 61-27 186 St. in Fresh Meadows, an area home to many Chinese residents, the Wyndham Garden Hotel started working with the city last month to house the detainees who were released to reduce the risk of COVID-19 breakouts on Rikers Island.

Fresh Meadows United, a local organization of businesses and residents, as well as the grassroots group New York City Residents Alliance, immediately began to knock doors to collect signatures to fight against the plan. Critics argue there are safety risks in allowing former detainees and homeless people moving in the neighborhood.

In his letter to de Blasio, Liu said sex offenders are among those who were moved into the hotel. He said safety is the priority of residents during the pandemic, but it is disappointing that the city made this arrangement without notifying the community.

“Especially when you [de Blasio] are aiming to reopen the schools in the Fall. P.S. 177, P.S. 26, P.S. 173 and Francis Lewis High School are all within walking distance from the hotel. The city should better protect the safety of families and children,” the letter said. Liu called for the mayor to make the plan temporary, and to move the tenants somewhere else by the beginning of the new school year.

Kenneth Chiu, a member of the Fresh Meadows United and vice president of the Asian American Community Empowerment, said there are 12 schools in the neighborhood serving more than 12,000 students, in addition to local learning centers.

“By law, sex offenders have to stay at least 1,000 feet from schools and children facilities,” Chiu said. “This is clearly against the law.”

Residents and businesses said they’ll file the petition to elected officials, including Liu and Council Member Barry Grodenchik, to ask for support. And they are also not ruling out the possibility of organizing marches and rallies.

A spokesman for the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice previously told the Queens Courier that the city was working to ‘find more permanent living situations’ for former Rikers inmates. “Protecting the health and safety of all New Yorkers was what drove the rapid jail population reduction at the start of the COVID-19 crisis,” the spokesman told the paper last month. “This and other hotels have provided an invaluable network of stable, reliable lodging for those in need, keeping people departing the jail system out of congregate housing.”

Since the start of the COVID-10 pandemic, criminal justice advocates have been pushing for the city to reduce its jail population, saying incarceration poses a high risk for infections, particularly for inmates who are older or have chronic health conditions.

Previous City Limits investigations have found that statistics usually do not bear out fears about crime associated with the presence of supportive housing, shelters or jail facilities, and also that sex offenders and other people who were once incarcerated are often subject to unfair discrimination after leaving jail or prison.

World Journal story translated and condensed by Rong Xiaoqing