Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to turn the Park Savoy Hotel in midtown into a men’s homeless shelter drew extreme reactions from neighborhood businesses and residents.
Local businesses, such as 120 West 58 Wine and Liquor at 120 W. 58th St., denounced the mayor’s plan, which could go into effect as early as next month, and worried about whether the homeless would be bringing drugs into the community.
“You can’t have single men. Men are aggressive regardless, and if they have drugs or drinks in them, they might get dangerous,” said Shawn Kim, store owner. “If anything bad happens here because of the shelter, we are going to sue the mayor.”
The 150-bed shelter for single men would be located between Sixth and Seventh avenues, near Carnegie Hall, Central Park and the Ritz-Carlton. The plan would help address a sharp rise in homelessness that has occurred during de Blasio’s time in office.
Kim and his sister-in-law, Helen Ohw, circulated a letter to apartment buildings and other businesses in the neighborhood, urging residents to express their disappointment to their elected officials.
“First and foremost, I am deeply disappointed with the city’s lack of communication with such a tremendous decision. There is no signage, flyers, posters or any material being distributed to the neighborhood. This whole process has been done in secrecy,” the letter reads.
Echoing a similar concern, Brad Gross, 25, said the homeless shelter is “the icing on the cake” that has almost convinced him to move to Brooklyn.
“I would have expected that our representatives would have told us what was going on,” he said, expressing befuddlement at how late he and his neighbors found out about the project. “It seems like they were purposefully trying to obfuscate what was happening, which is frustrating.”
Some residents, however, were more open to the idea.
“When I see them on the street begging for money, I feel terrible,” Inese Silva, 81, said. “The homeless are helpless, and we need to help them.”
Diane Judge, 86, felt that it was more important for homeless people to be taken off the streets.
“It’s not safe out there for them,” she said. “Very often, you see them lined up on the street, and it’s getting cold. It’s safer for them indoors.”
Raul Chino, who serves as the superintendent of a co-op building at 140 W. 58th St., was more worried about the kids in the neighborhood. He could not fathom why the mayor chose to build a shelter so close to Central Park.
“Why here? There are families, tourists who go to the park. I take my granddaughter there on weekends. We don’t want to see those kind of people around here,” he said. “It’s not nice for kids to see them peeing on the street and hanging around here.”
Some had more faith in de Blasio’s pledge to implement strict rules that will preserve the community’s lifestyle.
“It is what it is. These places, hopefully, will have security, and curfew, and will not let them hang around in the front,” Ralph Gonzalez, chief of operations for 150 W. 58th St., said. “These are issues I’m sure the mayor will address.”
Others, however, are not so sure.
Michael Burns, 77, who was on his way into the nearby New York Athletic Club Tuesday, said he will fear for his safety.
“Homeless shelters bring crime, embed poverty into the neighborhood, and the vitality and life of the upper middle class is destroyed,” he said. “I’ll be afraid, and I’ll be looking over my shoulder the entire time.”
In a news conference on January 16, de Blasio said that people in the neighborhood will have to participate in the city’s effort to open more homeless shelters.
Agreeing with the idea, Steve Buttes, 77, said, “Sometimes, it’s time for those who do very well to step up. We’ll give it a chance.”