City to move homeless out of UWS hotel after community push-back

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lucerne filephoto

The Lucerne Hotel on the Upper West Side.

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UPPER WEST SIDE, Manhattan — After a lengthy battle with neighborhood residents, homeless advocates and city officials, some of the city’s homeless will be moved out of an Upper West Side hotel, according to the West Side Community Organization.

The organization, which began as the Facebook group “Upper Weest Siders for Safer Streets” and grew to become a representative body for Upper West Side neighbors, said homeless New Yorkers would be relocated from the Lucerne Hotel on West 79th Street near Amsterdam Avenue, where they’d been staying.

The city initially moved a large population of New York’s homeless off the streets and out of crowded shelters, and instead placing them in commercial hotels, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Department of Social Services confirmed the news Tuesday night.

New Yorkers experiencing homelessness will be moved from the Manhattan hotel and a Queens hotel, but they will not return to congregate shelters, officials said.

Officials stressed the plan to have homeless individuals in hotels was temporary.

“As part of our effort to continually review and streamline the footprint of our shelter locations, while always ensuring effective provision of services, we’re beginning to relocate individuals from several commercial hotel locations to alternative non-congregate shelter locations, where we can continue to implement social distancing and provide isolation,” a DSS spokesperson said. “With more than 60 commercial hotel locations utilized to combat COVID and protect our clients from this virus over the past nearly six months, these actions will begin to reduce that footprint where we can — and we are continuing to closely monitor health indicators with the [the health department] to determine when and how all of our clients who are residing in these temporary emergency hotel relocation sites citywide can safely return to shelter.”

The West Side Community Organization considered it a win Tuesday.

“We appreciate that the City—at our urging—will be immediately taking concrete steps to address the chaos that reached a crisis point over the past several weeks when the City relocated hundreds of homeless individuals into the Lucerne Hotel, many of whom suffered from mental illness, addiction and other serious problems,” said Randy Mastro of the West Side Community Organization. “While there is still more work to be done to repair the damage to this neighborhood and to address the many homeless individuals still left adrift at other SRO hotels, we are gratified that the community is being heard and concrete action is being taken to remedy this tragic situation.

The mayor hinted back in August that he’d work to find alternate housing solutions for the city’s homeless after public push-back to having them in commercial hotels.

While many Upper West Siders spoke about safety concerns and quality of life issues in their neighborhoods, others disagreed, asking for compassion for the city’s homeless, who’d be unsafe in large shelters where they’d risk being exposed to COVID-19.

In late August, a different group, Upper West Side Open Hearts Initiative, held a rally in support of the homeless New Yorkers staying at the Lucerne.

“It’s a symbol to the community and to the residents,” Heather Gunn-Rivera, the co-founder of Upper West Side Open Hearts Initiative, told PIX11 News. “To show them there’s a safe, equitable and compassionate voice on the Upper West Side.”

PIX11 reached out to the group for comment on Tuesday’s news.

The Coalition for the Homeless attacked the decision.

“The Mayor’s decision to capitulate to the NIMBYist [not in my backyard] voices on the Upper West Side by further displacing homeless New Yorkers is a sad victory for the well-heeled and well-connected whose fear mongering and intolerance disgrace our city,” said Executive Director David Giffen. “Playing politics with the lives of people experiencing homelessness during a global pandemic is simply inexcusable and confirms that the suffering of homeless New Yorkers means less to Mayor de Blasio than the power of those who find it inconvenient. It is inhumane and just plain wrong, and the Mayor should be ashamed.”

Story features reporting from Magee Hickey and Jay Dow.

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