New York City pauses plan to displace shelter residents for homeless move

EAST SIDE, Manhattan (WABC) -- New York City has agreed to pause the displacement of residents from a Manhattan shelter in order to make room for homeless people being moved from an Upper West Side hotel in order to allow for further discussions.

A protest was held in Manhattan Friday over New York City's plan to move hundreds of homeless residents from the Lucerne Hotel to the Harmonia Houses, which currently houses homeless adult families -- many with physical or mental disabilities -- on East 31st Street.

After months of controversy, the city decided to clear out the Lucerne, which was temporarily converted to a shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic, sparking outrage from area residents who said their quality of life was being degraded.

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Josh Goldfein, of the Legal Aid Society, said 17 families have already be taken out of the Harmonia and that the organization is threatening to take legal action against the city. If the city resumes transplanting people, the Legal Aid Society will file suit to stop it. They say there is no guarantee the displaced will receive the same services.

"We are continuing to assess on a case-by-case basis the needs of the families at the Harmonia shelter as well as the needs of the single individuals we are relocating from the Lucerne," the Department of Homeless Services said in a statement.

Once the shelter is cleared, it is expected to be converted to a single men's facility.

The decision to move the homeless residents out of the Lucerne came as a relief to many area residents, but it also sparked outrage from advocates for the homeless.

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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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.

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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."

RELATED | Upper West Side residents furious, considering suing city over homeless increase

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."

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