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

UPPER WEST SIDE, Manhattan -- A group of residents are furious and are considering suing New York City because scores of homeless people were resettled in hotels on the Upper West Side. The homeless were moved to the hotels from homeless shelters because of coronavirus.

Michelle Benvenisti was walking home on the Upper West Side last Saturday night when someone started heckling her. She claims a man tried to follow her into her building, then loitered outside for several hours. It has destroyed her sense of safety.

ALSO READ | Homeless ruining quality of life on Upper West Side, residents say

"Completely unnerving that I have purchased a sound alarm for keychain, and I'm signing up for self-defense. Changing the way I do every day activities," Benvenisti says.

Many in the neighborhood have now joined 'Upper West Siders for Safer Streets.' They fear it has become downright dangerous after Mayor de Blasio filled three luxury hotels with those experiencing homelessness.

Residents cite an increase in random violence, drugs, public urination and open prostitution. They claim sex offenders were also moved into the streets. Now, the residents have hired an attorney to sue the city to transfer those experiencing homelessness back into shelters where they can get help.

"What the city has to do legally is house this vulnerable population in proper shelters, where they will get support and supervision and social services they will need," says attorney Randy Mastro, who represents the West Side Community Organization.

On Monday, there was a Zoom meeting between the community board, residents and homeless advocates. The city admits they moved ten thousand vulnerable New Yorkers from shelters to 60 private hotels in New York during the height of COVID.

Despite the complaints and the exorbitant hotel bills, the city stands by the decision.

"We know that by moving into hotels, we were able to save lives," said Erin Drinkwater from the Dept. of Social Service.

ALSO READ | Sex offenders at Upper West Side hotel will likely extend their stay

The Department of Homeless Services issued a statement saying,

"New Yorkers experiencing homelessness are our neighbors - and the notion that they are not welcome in some neighborhoods for any reason is an affront to basic decency."

"When they're not wearing masks, congregating, sleeping on the street or sharing bottles, it's hard to see how that's helpful. What was the goal of that?" says Upper West Side Resident Alison Morpurgo.

Morpurgo says a homeless man grabbed her a few weeks ago, trying to take her phone.

City officials admit the hotels were never meant to be a permanent solution, but they refuse to say when this will end.

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