What You Need To Know Now About the Upper West Side Homeless Shelters Saga

The Lucerne Hotel, a terra cotta building on the corner of Amsterdam Avenue and West 79th Street on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Homeless NYC residents have been housed in the hotel as part of the city’s coronavirus response. mifl68/Flickr

The latest: The de Blasio administration has paused moving
people from the Lucerne Hotel as Legal Aid lawyers negotiate
terms.

A fierce neighborhood conflict has been playing out on the Upper
West Side since early in the summer, when residents began
complaining about homeless New Yorkers who were temporarily placed
in area hotels — including the Lucerne, Belnord, and Belleclaire
— to help curb the spread of COVID-19 in the city’s crowded
shelters.

One group of Upper West Siders has aggressively campaigned for
the removal of their temporary neighbors. Through a new nonprofit
called West Side Community Organization, they
raised over $100,000
from (mostly) anonymous donors and hired a
former top staffer for the Giuliani administration, Randy Mastro,
to threaten to sue the city. Meanwhile, others in the neighborhood
have rallied in support of the homeless residents through a group
called UWS Open Hearts Initiative, organizing donation drives, a
sleep-out protest, and generally advocating for their right to
remain in the neighborhood.

Here is everything you need to know about the conflict and the
latest developments.

How it all started:

In late April, NYC’s Department of Homeless Services (DHS)
began to transfer thousands of homeless residents from the city-run
shelter system into to 60 hotels across the boroughs to curb the
spread of COVID-19. Some of those hotels included the Upper West
Side’s Lucerne, Belnord, and Belleclaire, which together house

around 700 individuals.

Shortly thereafter, some neighbors began to voice their
hostility, which included racist language
and warnings of
violence, on a Facebook group with 14,000 members called Upper West
Siders for Safer Streets, and the New York Post
took up their cause
to evict the unhoused from the hotels.
During an August Community Board 7 meeting, Dr. Megan Martin, who
emerged as an unofficial spokesperson, cited “open and illicit
drug use, needles on our playgrounds, aggressive panhandling, and
public masturbation” as reasons why they should be removed.

Join
#UWSOpenHearts
at the Lucerne for compassion and chalk at 2pm
today… and if you have art supplies for hotel residents, bring
’em down! pic.twitter.com/VuyT80m0PS

— kate epstein (@katiebtweetsnyc)
August 23, 2020

Opposition lawyers up and threatens to sue.

After its successful fundraising effort, the West Side Community
Organization hired former Giuliani top staffer Randy Mastro, who
threatened to sue the city if the de Blasio administration didn’t
provide a timeline for removing the homeless residents from the
neighborhood. Mastro sent a letter to the city on August 26 and
said that a lawsuit would follow if the de Blasio administration
didn’t respond with a plan in 48 hours.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announces residents of the Lucerne will be
transferred.

Nothing happened in the two days after the letter was sent. But
about two weeks later, on September 8, the de Blasio administration
announced that it was planning to transfer approximately
300 unhoused residents out of the Lucerne Hotel
by the end of
the month.

Corinne Low, a leader of the UWS Open Hearts Initiative
expressed her outrage over the city’s decision at the time:
“It’s been done based on pressure from a small segment of the
Upper West Side, who raised money and lawyered up and obviously
pressured the city into this,” she said. “That just sends a
terrible message that the people with money — their comfort
matters, they win, city policy is going to cater to them and not
the needs of vulnerable individuals.”

Family shelter residents abruptly displaced; city blames
“glitch.”

Following de Blasio’s announcement, the details of the plan
became clear: Because it is still unsafe to move the Lucerne
residents back into the shelters, they would instead be moved to
Harmonia, another hotel in Midtown used as a temporary homeless
shelter. Around 150 adult families living the Harmonia (including
some disabled individuals) would be forced to move out of the
facility in order to accommodate residents of the Lucerne.

“My husband and I are in wheelchairs, okay? And I’m on
oxygen,” Glenda Harris, a 56-year-old resident of the East 31st
Street shelter told the
Daily News
on September 10. “Last minute, they tell us we
have to leave.” The residents were reportedly given “Notices of
Administrative Transfer” without transfer dates or locations on
them.

Thirty-four residents were immediately transferred out of the
Harmonia shelter. Some, including a
63-year-old woman who uses a walker
, were transferred to North
Star, a facility in Long Island City. The city then blamed those
transfers on a “communications
glitch
,” Legal Aid Society lawyers said. Glitches aside,
advocates say moving the Lucerne residents will result in a
“ripple effect” as 900 homeless shelter residents (including
kids about to go back to school) in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens

would be shuffled around
.

Advocates call out the mayor, and the city hits pause on the
relocations.

The same day the city began transferring some Harmonia
residents, Legal Aid Society lawyers announced that they were
preparing to sue the city over their plan to move them out.
“Mayor Bill de Blasio’s pathetic and shortsighted surrender to
Upper West Side NIMBYism has unsurprisingly disrupted the lives of
other vulnerable New Yorkers at various shelters around New York
City, all in the midst of a public health crisis,” Judith
Goldiner, an attorney with Legal Aid, said in a statement. The
organization said that if the city didn’t provide proper
accommodations for the families being transferred, they would file
a temporary restraining order in the State Supreme Court.

Recap: The day started with
painting “Stars of Hope” to hang at The Lucerne where homeless
individuals were being displaced to 31st st, in turn displacing a
specialized shelter serving disabled families. We marched to 86th
and East End, rallied, then to @NYCMayor‘s
front door. pic.twitter.com/ulTSKV0VIv

— Corinne Low (@femonomics)
September 14, 2020

Then, over the weekend,
hundreds of advocates including UWS Open Hearts Initiative gathered
to protest
outside of Gracie Mansion (the mayor’s home) for
hours, asking him to reverse his decision to transfer the
residents. On Monday, September 14, the de Blasio administration
said it would pause all actions to move homeless residents out of
hotels. The Legal Aid Society said they would continue to negotiate
with the city to ensure that “every New Yorker in shelter can be
safe and healthy and receives the accommodations that they are
entitled to as prescribed by law.”

Source: FS – NYC Real Estate
What You Need To Know Now About the Upper West Side Homeless
Shelters Saga