New York City officials are ready to move nearly 8,000 homeless residents out of some 60 hotels and back into congregate shelters, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Wednesday, as the city continues to see record-low COVID infections.
‘It is time to move homeless folks who were in hotels for a temporary period of time back to shelters, where they can get the support they need,’ de Blasio said at his daily press briefing.
‘In shelters is where we can provide support, a variety of services and the pathway out of shelter and into a better life,’ he said.
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Wednesday that the city is prepared to move nearly 8,000 homeless residents out of about 60 hotels
The city began moving homeless residents into the hotels at the height of the pandemic last spring, when it became difficult to practice social distancing at the shelters.
But now, de Blasio said, the city is prepared to move the homeless residents back into the shelters, and could have all of them back in shelters by the end of July.
‘Everything is ready to go,’ he said. ‘All of our planning is in place – we know exactly which shelters we’re going to be bringing people back to, they are being prepared.’
The city just needs state authorization to do so, he said.
On May 18, the city Department of Social Services asked the State of New York to authorize ‘the return of folks in temporary hotel locations to permanent shelter locations,’ de Blasio announced.
A spokesman for Governor Andrew Cuomo told the New York Times in response that the governor did not have an issue with the plan so long as all the shelter residents wear masks, even if they are vaccinated.
‘It’s time to get that clear sign-off from the state, so we can move forward. Once we get that sign-off, we can start immediately moving people to shelters and getting back to that work of moving them forward in their lives,’ de Blasio said Wednesday.
‘This is something that is going to help us move forward,’ he added.
Homeless people were seen hanging out block away from the Indigo hotel in Brooklyn
Local residents have reported seeing fights, have been verbally abused or harassed, seen people spitting – despite the ongoing pandemic – and have also seen people looking for, or using drugs. A homeless person is seen sleeping on a couch on the Upper West Side in August
The city has spent $300 million on the hotel program since last April, when officials first negotiated a contract with the Hotel Association of New York City to find and provide rooms in hotels across the city, according to the New York Post.
The initial contract was for $78 million, the Post reported, but that only covered a fraction of the rooms and hotels that the city needed. By October, records from the city comptroller showed, the city had spent $299 million on the program.
In August, de Blasio had said the city was beginning to wind down its use of hotels as temporary shelters, as positivity rates declined before going back up again after the holiday season.
Then in September, the mayor called conditions in the area surrounding the Lucerne Hotel ‘not acceptable’ after a 60-year-old man was found dead inside the hotel. A source told the Post at the time that his death was not suspicious and appeared to be linked to natural causes.
But it came amid growing complaints from the wealthy Upper West Side community, who argued that the city officials did not get community input before moving the homeless residents into nearby hotels, including the Lucerne, which the Post reports, became home to 300 men, many of whom were addicted to drugs.
Upper West Side residents have reported seeing homeless men around the hotels urinating in public, openly using drugs and passed out on the sidewalk last year
A homeless man sleeps on a chair at the corner of W80th Street and Broadway in the Upper West Side in September
The residents argued that the new tenants harmed their quality of life y accosting pedestrians; claimed they saw some of the men at the hotel use drugs and overdose on sidewalks; and that they were responsible for a rise in robberies and burglaries – even though police statistics showed crime remained down in the area.
They formed a group, called the West Side Community Organization, after the homeless were quietly brought to the hotel, and claimed they saw fight, drug use and people spitting – despite the pandemic.
The New York Post at the time also reported that many of the new tenants were sex offenders.
The group urged city officials to relocate the homeless individuals, prompting the mayor to begin moving the homeless to the Harmonia in Midtown.
But it soon emerged that the men who were being brought there were displacing disabled residents at the Harmonia, and advocates for the homeless reacted with fury, marching from Carl Schurz Park to Gracie Mansion and demanding that de Blasio resign.
The Department of Homeless Services only paused the relocation in mid-September, though, after the Legal Aid filed a lawsuit on their behalf.
Roughly one week later, the city announced it would move the residents from the Lucerne to a Radisson hotel in the Financial District, prompting residents there to create a Facebook page entitled ‘Downtown NYCers for Safe Streets.’
‘We believe that our residents should have been notified in advance of this possibility and now that it has been agreed to without our knowledge, we need to make our voices heard,’ the page’s description read.
A post on the page provided residents with a template to raise their concerns to city officials, and one of the posts on the page reads: ‘I have great compassion for the homeless, but moving them in a few blocks from my son where drug use was clear is not appropriate.
‘These human beings deserve help, not a hotel room with no medical and no counseling,’ the mother continued. ‘And residents deserve to raise their kids without fear of witnessing drug use and homeless individuals who are ill screaming day and night yelling obscenities on every corner.’
‘They are ill, they need help – not a hotel.’
By November, homeless individuals claimed Upper West Side residents were offering them food or money to move out, and by the end of the month, a judge had ruled that the homeless must be moved out of the Lucerne hotel and into the Radisson.
A group of presumably homeless people pass around a bottle of alcohol out in the open at the corner of W79th Street and Broadway in the Upper West Side earlier this month
Roughly 300 people were moved into the Lucerne Hotel quietly in July
The announcement that the ‘Homeless-to-Hotels’ program, though, came with mixed reaction.
Some homeless residents said the private hotel room provided a vastly better living experience than sleeping in a shelter, the Times reported, and others said they would rather live in the street than go back to living in a shelter.
Advocates have also argued that the decision is premature, as the Federal Emergency Management Association has offered to pay for the hotels until the end of September, and many of the homeless may not be vaccinated.
The city has said that about 6,300 homeless adults had been fully vaccinated through its Homeless Services sites, but officials did not know how many had been vaccinated elsewhere.
More than 17,000 adults are in the shelter program, the Times reported.
Citywide, though, data shows 65 percent of adults have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine, and 58 percent are fully vaccinated.
The infection rate was down to 1 percent on Wednesday, and there have only been an average of 207 cases over the past week, the City Department of Health reported.
The city started moving homeless residents into the hotels last April. Here a homeless person is seen entering the Double Tree on West 36th Street in Manhattan