New York City decision to end Manhattan homeless hotel sparks outrage, relief

UPPER WEST SIDE, Manhattan (WABC) -- Activists are blasting City Hall's decision to pull the homeless from a hotel transformed into a shelter on the Upper West Side, ending months of controversy.

The city took over the Lucerne Hotel at 79th Street and Amsterdam Avenue and converted it into a temporary shelter during the coronavirus pandemic, drawing complaints from area residents claiming the new arrivals were diminishing their quality of life.

Community advocate Dana Lowey Luttway said the welfare of her neighborhood quickly plummeted when the Lucerne joined two other hotels in the neighborhood to house homeless. Neighbors reported seeing drug deals, public urination and even prostitution as the homeless population expanded without the services they desperately need.

"They're not getting it here," Luttway said. "They're getting it in an number of other facilities and shelters that we have coexisted compassionately with for years and and years. The Lucerne is what tipped the scale."

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Now, the Department of Homeless Services said it will transfer the nearly 300 residents from the Lucerne to other facilities by the end of the next weekend.

Homeless activists are furious with the move.

"The mayor's decision to capitulate to the NIMBYist voices on the Upper West Side by further displacing homeless New Yorkers is a sad victory for the well-heeled and well-connected whose fear mongering and intolerance disgrace our city," Coalition for the Homeless Executive Director David Giffen said in a statement. "Playing politics with the lives of people experiencing homelessness during a global pandemic is simply inexcusable and confirms that the suffering of homeless New Yorkers means less to Mayor de Blasio than the power of those who find it inconvenient. It is inhumane and just plain wrong, and the mayor should be ashamed."

Mayor Bill de Blasio defended his decision, saying that placing the homeless in hotels was just a temporary move to keep them safe during pandemic.

"We want to get back to the policy we started years ago," he said. "Fewer hotels, people in long term appropriate shelter, and then ultimately getting them to have permanent affordable housing."

At the height of the pandemic, the city relocated nearly 10,000 homeless people to more than 60 hotels citywide.

Still, many were pleased with the decision.

"The decision to move 300 troubled individuals out of the Lucerne Hotel into state-accredited shelters where they will receive on-site support and treatment was an important step for all New Yorkers," West Side Community Organization President Megan Martin said in a statement. "No one in any neighborhood should be made to feel unsafe, and everyone who needs help should get it. We, the members of the West Side Community Organization -- or WestCo -- applaud the city's action. This was a win-win for all involved. The goal of our organization was always to improve the conditions of not only our community, but the lack of resources these men were receiving. We are grateful to the Department of Homeless Services and Mayor de Blasio for responding to our concerns, as we are grateful that these men will now be in a more appropriate environment. The Upper West Side still has more work to do, but this is a tremendous first step."

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A spokesperson for the Department of Homeless Services released the following statement:

"As we have said, our use of commercial hotels to combat COVID is temporary, and as part of our effort to continually review and streamline the footprint of our shelter locations, while always ensuring effective provision of services, we're beginning to relocate individuals from several commercial hotel locations to alternative non-congregate shelter locations, where we can continue to implement social distancing and provide isolation. With more than 60 commercial hotel locations utilized to combat COVID and protect our clients from this virus over the past nearly six months, these actions will begin to reduce that footprint where we can-and we are continuing to closely monitor health indicators with DOH, to determine when and how all of our clients who are residing in these temporary emergency hotel relocation sites citywide can safely return to shelter."

The city will not say where the people at the Lucerne will end up going.

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