New York City has reversed its decision to move the homeless from a luxury hotel on the Upper West Side, after some residents protested the move and others expressed outrage that the plan was allowed to continue.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday that "the whole system is being analyzed at this time" after facing criticism from all sides about his plan to house some 13,000 homeless people in hotels across the city during the coronavirus pandemic.
“As the Mayor said this morning, at this time, while Commissioner Banks and Corp Counsel Johnson are reviewing the situation, we are not moving any clients from these locations as part of this initiative (moves in the normal course, such as to permanent housing, for example, may proceed),” said in a statement to WABC-TV the Department of Homeless Services.
“We want to make sure that each person is treated with dignity,” de Blasio said at a press conference. “Again, I don't think a temporary hotel placement should be misunderstood as the ideal. I don't think it is the ideal. It was never meant to be the ideal. We got to get people to the right kind of location for them, so this is why the whole system is being looked at right now.”
The UWS Open Hearts Initiative, which advocated for homeless men to stay in hotels, responded to the pause with a statement encouraging the move.
“This victory belongs to the residents of The Lucerne and Harmonia who spoke out last might at great personal risk to themselves given their vulnerable position. Now we need to keep the pressure on & keep fighting--this is an opening, but we MUST continue to make our voices heard,” the group said.
A group that opposes the hotel scheme, the West Side Community Organization, issued its own statement, saying: “We understand and expect that the City will honor its commitment to move folks out of the Lucerne and into state-accredited shelters with proper services on-site by the end of this month.”
“As the Mayor has explained, SRO hotels should only be temporary housing, and what's happening on the Upper West Side is 'not acceptable,' so this move will be a win-win for this neighborhood and this vulnerable population,” the statement continued.
The homeless men were quietly moved to the hotel in July, and the city had begun moving them after a massive outcry from residents who said open drug use and lewd displays had become rampant in the upscale neighborhood.
But it later emerged that the men were being transferred to Harmonia in Midtown, causing the disabled residents of Harmonia to be displaced.
Advocates for the homeless reacted furiously, marching from Carl Schurz Park to the Gracie Mansion and demanding that De Blasio resign with chants while police guarded the property.
A sign read: “Because you are displacing 900 homeless NYers and think that 'shelters are better environments' please be advised that you will be transferred from Gracie Mansion to a homeless shelter.”
The Department of Homeless Services only stopped plans to move Harmonia-housed families after Legal Aid filed a lawsuit on their behalf.
Members of the Open Hearts Initiative on Sunday urged the Upper West Siders to show compassion for those trapped homeless, ways to earn a living and many people living with mental illness.“A lot of us are just trying, like I said, get on out feet and move on,” Shelter resident Mario Charles told the station.
State Senator Brian Benjamin attended the rally to express how the local government was not showing enough kindness to the less fortunate. Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal said that while officials have been listening to people who "don't like to see poverty ..." The mayor's decision to remove the people from Lucerne had a ripple effect that no one could have expected. NYS Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal added: “It's our responsibility as a society to save those less fortunate than us during a pandemic.” After four hours of activist and politician efforts outside the Gracie Mansion, the mayor's administration agreed to open a line of communication with homeless voters affected by relocation and displacement. “Victorious councilmember @HelenRosenthal can finally go home and eat!!!! She fought side by side with us for EIGHT hours today,” the Open Hearts said on Twitter.