Manhattan shelter residents demand city pause disruptive shelter transfers

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Protestors gathered at The MAve Hotel on Madison Avenue in the Flatiron District on Oct. 19, 2020 to call on the city to keep residents in the current hotel to maintain continuity.
Photo by Todd Maisel

City Councilmember Carlina Rivera repeated calls for the city to impose a moratorium on moving around homeless New Yorkers until a COVID-19 vaccine is developed on Monday outside of The MAve Hotel in the Flatiron District.  Rivera is one of four Democratic city councilmembers that first demanded the moratorium last week ahead of the city’s transfer of Lucerne Hotel residents after repeated complaints from Upper West Siders. 

Rivera was joined by over a dozen shelter residents outside of the midtown shelter just hours after City Hall decided to pause its contentious plan to relocate over 200 shelter tenants of the Lucerne Hotel. 

The city had planned to start relocating 235 residents of the Upper West Side shelter to the former Radisson Hotel in Lower Manhattan on Monday but the move was blocked after a judge granted tenants a temporary restraining order in the early afternoon. 

“It’s dangerous, it’s unnecessary and it’s risky,” said Rivera. “We are exposing families to transmission.”

City Council Member Carlina Rivera speaks during Monday’s protest at The MAve Hotel. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

Scattering families in shelters across the city also makes potential contact tracing efforts challenging, she added.

The shelter is currently home to roughly 70 families, at least 30 of whom have young children. 

Shelter resident Kevin Weaver, 34, lives at The MAve with his two sons Kalib, 5, and Kyrin, 6. Both boys are enrolled in hybrid learning and take classes in-person three days a week and are fortunate enough to have working iPads for their remote learning days.

Kevin Weaver worries that a move will undo the little stability that they have been able to get during the last year and worries that they could possibly miss class. 

“It’s going to be rough,” said Weaver. “It’s like we got to start from scratch all over and that’s interfering with their education.” 

The MAve residents are scheduled to begin being transferred out of the hotel Tuesday morning, according to Mike Bonano, a resident of the nearby Harmonia Hotel who was among those urging the city to stop all shelter transfers. In September, Mayor de Blasio tried to kick out residents at the Harmonia to make room for soon-to-be displaced residents of the Lucerne. 

Oftentimes, the Department of Homeless Services does not tell residents where they are being transferred to until the day of their move and none of The MAve residents know where they could potentially land. 

Protesters at a rally at The MAve Hotel on Monday, Oct. 19. ( Photo by Todd Maisel) 

The process is exhausting, said Bonano, and often traumatic. Some shelter residents at The MAve reported being given 30 minutes before being packed to a bus and moved to another borough to gather their belongings. Residents are normally told that they are only allowed to bring two bags with them to their next shelter. 

“It’s hard to see people that have so little, have basically nothing after it’s tossed out to the streets,” said Bonano. 

“During the pandemic, a top priority has been protecting the adults we serve, who otherwise would have been in congregate settings, through the strategic use of commercial hotels as temporary relocation sites,” said DHS spokesperson Isaac McGinn. “We continue to use this vital, life-saving strategy so we and our provider partners are able to implement best health practices and social distancing while our City combats the COVID-19 pandemic.  Our actions on this front will be guided by the science and data in determining when it is safe to return to congregate shelters, including closely monitoring health indicators with health experts at the New York City Health Department and following their lead in all that we do.”

This article was updated on Oct. 20, to reflect comment from the Department of Homeless Services


The MAve Hotel in the Flatiron District. (Photo by Todd Maisel)