It was expected, but it’s still disappointing if you’re a homeless New Yorker.
This week, the city began the process of transferring the homeless, who had been staying in hotels during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, back to shelters and opening up these establishments for business. The move comes after the city lost an appeal in court on June 3 denying them from keeping the homeless at The Lucerne Hotel.
The Lucerne Hotel on the Upper West Side was ground zero where homeless New Yorkers were put on busses and taken to shelters.
Joseph Loonam, the housing campaign coordinator for VOCAL-NY, said that the city could deal with this situation in a better way.
“It’s a major, major concern for us in regards to the health and safety of our members and leaders,” said Loonam. “I think there’s a real disconnect right now between what the risks are and what the city is doing, and I also think there’s a lot of opportunity to use this as a moment to address housing.
“The city’s ignoring that and instead forcing people back into shelters.”
The AmNews contacted management at The Lucerne Hotel who chose not to comment.
Local residents have called out and pushed back against putting homeless New Yorkers in The Lucerne Hotel. So much so that residents formed a nonprofit called the West Side Community Organization to raise money for a lawyer, former New York deputy mayor Randy Mastro, to sue the city and throw residents out of The Lucerne.
“West Side Community Organization wishes the men who had been residing at the Lucerne well,” read the statement. “We are heartened that they will now be better served in a proper shelter setting and receive the medical and psychiatric services they had been lacking for nearly a year. Hotels are not shelters. WestCo hopes that moving forward, there have been lessons learned from the inadequacy of the hotels-as shelters-program, and that the practice will be permanently discontinued.
“WestCo is proud of its role in the advocacy for public safety and we know that the Upper West Side will rebound and be stronger than ever in these coming days and months.”
Residents had initially taken to Facebook groups (one titled “Upper West Siders For Safe Streets”) to complain about the current occupants’ presence and would share pictures to confirm their fears about shelter residents making their neighborhood a temporary home. This week, they’ve gotten their wish.
The homeless are also a topic when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine. During a news conference this week, the city assured New Yorkers that it was doing everything they can to get the homeless vaccinated and will continue its efforts to do so.
“It’s the single most important thing that we can do to keep people safe whether in congregate shelter or in other settings, and our colleagues at the Department of Homeless Services have made vaccination widely available through things like pop-up clinics, working with shelter providers to ensure that vaccination is readily available from trusted providers and ensuring that other healthcare settings are providing options for vaccination as well,” said New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi. “We have to continue those efforts and redouble them because it is the single most important thing to keep people safe.”
The New York City Council recently approved an increase in value of vouchers for the homeless. The value of the vouchers would increase to $1,945 for a one-bedroom apartment and/or $2,217 for a two-bedroom. These vouchers would be brought up to federal Section 8 standards by subsidies from the Family Homelessness & Eviction Prevention Supplement.
The bill goes into effect 180 days after its approval. Milton Perez, a homeless man who resides in a hotel in Brownsville, Brooklyn, said that the city should move up the timeline so homeless New Yorkers can find permanent shelter using these vouchers and that what the city is currently doing puts homeless people in harm’s way.
“The dorm that I came from is shaped like a subway,” said Perez. “A lot of people are in danger because of COVID-19 and with this new Delta variant, they might make it mandatory to wear masks on the subway again.
“Are we supposed to wear masks while sleeping? This is what they’re sending us to. You wanna rush people into danger.”
The Department of Homeless Services did not respond to AmNews’ requests for comment.
Perez’s comparison of his last homeless shelter to a subway (he also said that there was one microwave for hundreds of residents) hurt Loonam. He believes the rejection of the homeless by Upper West Siders is strictly due to aesthetics and it treats the homeless like a ping pong ball to be bounced around from shelter to shelter.
“I think this is a real tragedy and from the beginning we have said that there is no real evidence to suggest a connection between quality-of-life concerns in the neighborhood and hotel residents,” said Loonam. “These people should not be in homeless shelters. What everybody else wants right, they want a permanent place to call home, and moving them around in a way that disregards their needs and their rights doesn’t do anything to stabilize communities, make them healthier or integrate people into civic life.
“These shelters are costing the city a lot of money,” continued Loonam. It’s a waste of city resources. It would be cheaper to provide permanent housing.”
Perez echoed similar sentiments.
“You can’t provide permanent housing, but you’re willing to pay for us to be in a shelter,” said Perez.