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City to remove homeless from Lucerne Hotel at behest of Upper West Side ‘NIMBYism’

Upper West Side residents are split about having the homeless living in their community as many were settled into local hotels including the Lucerne. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

In what has shown to be an unpopular move by Mayor Bill de Blasio and a concession to anti-homeless sentiment in the Upper West Side, residents housed by the city Department of Homeless Services will be relocated from the Lucern Hotel.

Despite outrage from homeless advocates, Randy Mastro, an attorney representing the West Side Community Organization who fought to have the residents removed, claimed that the call for removal of the residents at the Lucerne was out of concern for the homeless New Yorkers who caused “chaos” in the otherwise quiet, upper-class neighborhood.

“We appreciate that the City—at our urging—will be immediately taking concrete steps to address the chaos that reached a crisis point over the past several weeks when the City relocated hundreds of homeless individuals into the Lucerne Hotel, many of whom suffered from mental illness, addiction and other serious problems,” Mastro said. “That the City has disclosed today it will cease using the Lucerne to house this vulnerable population… They were shocked and horrified to see what was happening in broad daylight in their neighborhood, and they wanted to do something about it.”

The West Side Community Organization was assembled after it came to the attention of local residents that DHS had filled the Lucerne – as well as the Hotel Belleclaire – with up to 200 people at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in the city in order to ease congestion and spread of the disease in bunkhouse-style shelters.

Judith Goldiner, Attorney-in-Charge of the Civil Law Reform Unit at The Legal Aid Society, took a dim view of what she claimed to be a needless decision to up-end the lives of men and women living in the two hotels and that the organization would be looking at legal action to take against the city.

“It is truly disgraceful that the de Blasio Administration capitulated so quickly to Upper West Side NIMBYism, putting our clients at increased risk in the middle of an unprecedented public health crisis, which has already claimed the lives of 104 homeless New Yorkers. We are also concerned with the dangerous precedent this decision sets to the great detriment of our clients going forward, prejudicing the City’s ability to fully advocate for the homeless in these situations,” Goldiner said. “Although these single adults will be relocated to a non-congregate family shelter with private rooms, there is no legal or moral justification forcing the City to upend the lives of some of New York’s most vulnerable in such a callous manner. Legal Aid will continue to monitor this situation and we are considering all options.” 

The accommodations at the two Upper West Side hotels, according to one resident, was a life-saving move by the city as the shelter he was previously in had seen the rampant spread of COVID-19. Roberto Mangual said he was housed on Wards Island where there was no possibility of quarantining against sick residents, and now, at the Lucerne, has been able to keep a clean and safe environment.

“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,” David Giffen, Executive Director of Coalition for the Homeless, said. “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.”

According to Mastro, the homeless New Yorkers at the Lucerne and Belleclaire will be removed by the end of September into non-congregate facilities elsewhere.

DHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment from amNewYork Metro.

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