'Problematic' homeless hotels costing NYC taxpayers millions

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Taxpayers are paying up to $1 million dollars a night to house the homeless in New York City since the pandemic started and, as of now, there's no end in sight. This according to city contracts obtained by 7 On Your Side Investigates.

When the pandemic started, the city moved more than 12,000 homeless people out of crowded shelters and into more than 60 hotels to keep them safe and socially distanced. However, concerned neighbors say while the city fixed one problem, it created another.

From the Upper West Side, to Midtown to downtown, neighbors have reported a variety of issues near temporary homeless hotels - from fights taking place outside, indecent exposure to drug use.

"It's out of control and wild, people need help here," said neighbor Joe Restuccia, "we have photos of people exposing themselves, running around on the streets naked."

"People just don't feel safe," said Travis Rogers who lives near one of the hotels in Hells Kitchen.

Even though vaccines are widely available now to vulnerable populations, city leaders say they have no timeline as to when or if there will be mobile outreach to those living temporarily in hotels and when they'll be moved back to shelters.

Meanwhile, it's costing the city much more than they originally expected for hotels, up to $1 million a night. Some neighbors believe there's something missing - permanent help and social services to help men and women get back on their feet.

"We're told we're not being compassionate, we are being compassionate these buildings are not being well run by the social service operators, that's the major problem here," said Restuccia. "People don't prosper if you're just locked away in a room and everything is all separate you have to be engaged and involved in social services and everything else," he said.

"I just want a plan from our leaders," said Rogers, "I haven't' heard anyone make a tough decision and I haven't heard anyone devise a reasonable plan."

In a long statement the city's Department of Social Services said they don't know when they'll be moving people back to shelters, but that they're providing hotels extra security and making safe decisions based on data and science.

The statement reads,

"As we observe the one-year anniversary of this unprecedented crisis and mourn the New Yorkers who are no longer with us, we are also reminded of the invaluable role our frontline staff, provider partners, and outreach teams have played in saving lives and helping mitigate the spread of the virus. Thanks to their essential work these past twelve months and their ongoing dedication, we remain vigilant and continue to prioritize the health and safety of New Yorkers experiencing homelessness, following the science and the health experts, with data showing that our decisive pandemic-response strategies - including the temporary use of emergency relocation hotels - have worked to stop the spread of the virus. As our whole City continues to navigate this situation together, we are proud that our strategies have ensured that New Yorkers experiencing homelessness receive the same protections from the pandemic as New Yorkers fortunate enough to social distance at home. At this time, the majority of cases we have experienced over the past year have now resolved/recovered, our case rates remain low, our proactive COVID testing continues, and vaccination is underway.

It has been an undeniably challenging time - physically, emotionally, psychologically, and more - for our City and for all New Yorkers, regardless of housing status. For those New Yorkers who are currently experiencing homelessness, our staff and provider partners continue to do extraordinary and vital work caring for New Yorkers in need under these unprecedented circumstances - and as members of the community, we intend to be good neighbors, engaging openly and making this the best and safest experience it can be for these individuals as they get back on their feet.

To that end, as we have said throughout the pandemic, the temporary use of emergency relocation hotels was always intended to be temporary and not intended to be used in this way on an ongoing basis. As our City continues to recover, we are watching our health indicators closely and working with DOHMH to determine when and how clients can be safely relocated back to shelters from the temporary emergency hotel relocation sites, and we'll inform communities when our City is ready to take that next step."

During a press conference Thursday morning, the Mayor said he should have a better idea of when they'll be relocated back to shelters in the next two months.

"The goal is to leave the hotels, go back to the traditional shelters and I think we'll have a much better picture of that in the next month or two," said New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio.

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