Coronavirus News: Homeless ruining quality of life on Upper West Side, residents say

COVID-19 News and Information

ByEyewitness News via WABC logo
Thursday, August 13, 2020

UPPER WEST SIDE, Manhattan (WABC) -- Thousands of homeless people are being housed in hotels on the Upper West Side of Manhattan amid the coronavirus pandemic, over worries of the threat COVID-19 causes for residents in shelters.

But the response from New Yorkers has not exactly been to roll out the welcome wagon, and the controversy continues to grow.

On the 200 block of West 72nd Street, a group of homeless men have set up camp.

"This whole block has deteriorated," area resident John Leach said. "Sometimes it's one guy, sometimes it's 10."

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Leach has lived in the neighborhood for 30 years, and he and others are providing video and photos of men obviously intoxicated, another sound asleep on the street. And they say urinating in public is common.

"I feel sorry for them, but this is not a rehabilitation thing," he said. "These guys are like anarchists, homeless. They drink, throw bottles on the ground."

Lydia Parra owns a hair salon in the block and says the scene on the street hasn't helped business.

"All the time, all the time, four, five, six, drinking, drugs, marijuana," she said. "My business go down because the people doesn't pass around here."

The city has recently moved thousands from crowded, unsafe shelters to vacant hotels to get them isolated during the pandemic.

Related: Manhattan homeless hotel causing concern for nearby residents

But the situation on 72nd is different, and neighbors are scared.

"You're going to see a lot of people with mental illness, and the answer is much more complicated than writing summonses to individuals who quite frankly I don' think they even realize they're getting a summons," NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said.

Police and elected leaders are also upset about growing homeless encampments

"It's unacceptable, it's absolutely unacceptable," City Council member Helen Rosenthal said. "I'm not sure that's reasons to leave the Upper West Side, but I too am very upset about that location. And I'm talking to DHS on a regular basis to quote-unquote 'Do something about it.'"

So what the city can do? Surprisingly, not much. After all, being homeless is not a crime.

Police promise they will enforce quality of life violations like urinating in public. In the meantime, the city's departments of homeless services and and sanitation will try to work with these individua's to convince them to move to shelters or hotels. But it's taking much longer than anybody wants.

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