Left behind: Public Advocate Williams calls out mayor, governor for ‘racist’ homeless relocations

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Public Advocate Jumaane Williams joined activists and other elected officials to push for Intro. 146-C during a press conference on July 26.
Photo by Dean Moses

It’s “a recovery for all,” unless you’re homeless.

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams told Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo on Monday to stop shuffling the homeless population like cattle to conceal rather than confront New York City’s housing crisis on the one-year anniversary of the creation of hotels as temporary shelters.

On July 26, homeless individuals, elected officials, and human rights advocates took the mayor and governor to task for the continued removal of unhoused hotel residents to “dangerous” congregate shelters on the anniversary they were originally transported. 

They are demanding the expedited implementation of Intro. 146-C as well as further action to address homelessness by providing permanent housing.  

Forcing those using New York hotels as temporary lodgings out of the homes they have known for the past year has left many Manhattanites shocked and disgusted at top city officials for signing off on the convoy of busses that load up human beings in order to pave the way for tourists.

But advocates say some unhoused folks are returning to life on the streets rather than resorting to once again calling shelters their homes.

“Being in the hotels gave us a sense of hope, it gave us a sense of safety and security, and where we became stabilized and able to think things like: ‘I have been here for 3 months, maybe I can get a job now.’ We have seen the transformation in a couple of months, this is a great model, but we know that congregate shelters are unsafe physically, but they are also unsafe for the mental and emotional impact it can have on a person. I would rather sleep in the safety of the streets than in the unsafety [sic] of a congregate shelter,” Shams DaBaron, a hotel resident, said at a rally he helped organize outside the Lucerne Hotel on 201 West 79th Street.

Shams DaBaron. Photo by Dean Moses

Known as the homeless hero, DaBaron is pushing back against what he feels to be dangerous procedures by piling a largely unvaccinated population into cramped and unsanitary conditions. Not only that, but he also says that shelters are rife with violence and theft, leaving many unwilling to stay.

Williams echoed those sentiments along with state Senator Brian Kavanagh, Manhattan District Attorney candidate Alvin Bragg, and others who lent their voices on Monday. 

“We are here one year later, on the anniversary of when men were moved from congregate shelters to the Lucerne to save their lives. The mayor is moving people across the city back to congregate shelters from hotels, meanwhile, the COVID cases rate is up 250% from the end of June,” Williams said, calling the city and state out for recklessly endangering the lives of New York residents like they are simply expendable castaways.

Williams calls this method of pushing out the unhoused racist, especially since he states that 90% of homeless individuals are people of color. He claims the mayor and governor are making the same past mistakes that he says they made in 2020 when handling the health and safety of New Yorkers.

“Moving people into congregate shelters right now while there is clear evidence that COVID is escalating with the new strain of the virus and there are even breakthrough infections among those who are fully vaccinated demonstrates the clear disregard for the lives of these folks. The lives of these people. We have to remind them that they are actually people, and they are residents of New York City,” Williams said. “Think about how much that uprooted your life when you just had to move. Now, imagine being homeless and on top of that being shipped back and forth as if nobody cares about what’s going on with your lives and being uprooted time and time again. This is what we are doing to our neighbors.”

Williams is enraged at the pure disregard for homeless individuals by the mayor and governor. Photo by Dean Moses

This conference comes just one day after a 26-year-old woman was found dead in an East Harlem shelter, while the investigation is ongoing, for many homeless individuals and advocates, this underscores their wariness of shelters.

As the Mayor and Governor bicker amongst themselves, advocates said, they are not only ignoring the wellbeing of those uprooted but also the emerging threat of Delta variant that many feel could ravage shelter space.

Bragg also sees the issue as one of criminal justice.

“We know the intersection between race and criminal justice drives so much of our system, more than half of people leaving custody go to shelters, it is outrageous. That is something that compounds the other issues,” Bragg said, adding that the reentry into society from jail and prison terms must be addressed as well.