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Homeless advocates and Upper West Side residents face off outside Lucerne hotel

Homeless advocates and Upper West Side residents face off outside Lucerne hotel

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Homeless advocates and Upper West Side residents face off outside Lucerne hotel

A shouting match erupted outside a luxury hotel-turned-homeless shelter on Manhattan’s Upper West Side as protesters supporting the 300 homeless men clashed with neighborhood residents demanding they be relocated. 

The Lucerne Hotel has been steeped in controversy for weeks since New York City moved roughly 300 homeless men into its empty rooms in an effort to stem the spread of coronavirus.  

The scheme polarized the community as some residents have complained that the decision brought rampant drug use and lewd displays to their streets.  

Last week the city’s Department of Homeless Services announced that the men would be transferred to another hotel near Wall Street – drawing fierce opposition from the homeless advocates.  

Dozens of demonstrators gathered outside the Lucerne on Sunday to show their support for the homeless living there when members of the opposing group arrived to shout them down.  

A shouting match erupted outside the Lucerne Hotel on Manhattan’s Upper West Side on Sunday as homeless advocates clashed with neighborhood residents demanding that the hotel no longer be used as a shelter 

The Lucerne Hotel has been steeped in controversy for weeks since New York City moved roughly 300 homeless men into its empty rooms in an effort to stem the spread of coronavirus. Homeless advocates gathered outside the building on Sunday to show support (pictured)

The Lucerne Hotel has been steeped in controversy for weeks since New York City moved roughly 300 homeless men into its empty rooms in an effort to stem the spread of coronavirus. Homeless advocates gathered outside the building on Sunday to show support (pictured)

A woman is seen confronting city Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and another supporter of the homeless during Sunday's tense demonstration

A woman is seen confronting city Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and another supporter of the homeless during Sunday’s tense demonstration

A critic demanding that the homeless be removed from the Lucerne holds a sign that reads: 'This country needs a dept of common sense' during Sunday's demonstration

A critic demanding that the homeless be removed from the Lucerne holds a sign that reads: ‘This country needs a dept of common sense’ during Sunday’s demonstration

The supporters, led by city Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, New York State Assemblymember Linda B Rosenthal and the UWS Open Hearts initiative, convened at the hotel on West 79th Street to wrap a blue ‘ribbon of love’ around the building.  

Many held signs with messages of kindness, such as ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘Homelessness is not a crime’. 

As Williams addressed the crowd he was interrupted by opponents with their own signs bearing phrases including ‘We want safe streets’ and ‘This country needs a dept of common sense’. 

Addressing Williams directly, one woman said that the men were placed in the hotel under an executive order by Mayor Bill de Blasio that was supposed to be temporary, suggesting that they had overstayed their welcome.  

‘The people that are living here need help and support,’ the woman said. 

‘Where should they go?’ Williams asked.

‘They could have gone to the Javits Center,’ the woman replied, prompting another supporter to question: ‘Why don’t you go somewhere?’ 

That was one of several heated exchanges that unfolded over the course of the gathering – one of many staged outside the hotel in the past month. 

‘I believe people to be sincere when they say they actually care about the people. They just don’t want them in the site that they were placed,’ Williams said on Sunday.

‘I’m sorry, that is actually the definition of NIMBYism.’ ‘NIMBY’ stands for ‘Not In My Backyard’. 

Larry Thomas, a 59-year-old who has been living at the Lucerne shelter since July after getting out of prison, also spoke to the crowd.  

‘I want to live like you all,’ Thomas said. ‘If I can even diffuse the situation, I’m on the front lines to diffuse it. Let’s get together and help each other. Because in a way that’s all we got, is us.’

The supporters, led by city Public Advocate Jumaane Williams (second left), New York State Assemblymember Linda B Rosenthal (center) and the UWS Open Hearts initiative, convened at the hotel on West 79th Street to wrap a blue 'ribbon of love' around the building

The supporters, led by city Public Advocate Jumaane Williams (second left), New York State Assemblymember Linda B Rosenthal (center) and the UWS Open Hearts initiative, convened at the hotel on West 79th Street to wrap a blue ‘ribbon of love’ around the building

As Williams (pictured) addressed the crowd he was interrupted by opponents who sought to explain why the Lucerne should no longer be used as a shelter

As Williams (pictured) addressed the crowd he was interrupted by opponents who sought to explain why the Lucerne should no longer be used as a shelter

Supporters held signs with messages of kindness, including 'Homelessness is not a crime!'

Supporters held signs with messages of kindness, including ‘Homelessness is not a crime!’

A masked woman holds a sign telling homeless Lucerne residents: 'You matter'

A masked woman holds a sign telling homeless Lucerne residents: ‘You matter’

Supporters also wrote messages of solidarity on stars hung on scaffolding outside the hotel

Supporters also wrote messages of solidarity on stars hung on scaffolding outside the hotel

Over the past month Mayor de Blasio has gone back and forth about how to address backlash surrounding his decision to place some 13,000 of the city’s homeless population in hotels that were left empty as the coronavirus crisis disrupted tourism.  

The move was meant to protect the homeless people, many of whom suffer from mental illness and addiction, during the pandemic. 

But many residents living near hotels-turned-shelters voiced outrage over the initiative, saying that the growing homeless populations diminished their security and quality of life. 

The Upper West Side emerged as a flashpoint of the debate as some members of the largely affluent community complained that drug use, drug deals and public urination had become a common sights on their streets.   

The city’s Department of Homeless Services (DHS) responded to the outrage by announcing plans to move the men to Midtown’s Harmonia Hotel in mid-September. 

But that plan was scrapped as homeless advocates decried the fact that the move would displace another group of disabled homeless people already living there. 

Then on September 25, DHS unveiled a new plan to move the men to a permanent shelter at the Radisson Hotel in the Financial District. 

The West Side Community Organization (WSCO) – which has led the calls to relocate the homeless – applauded the new DHS plan while the UWS Open Hearts initiative called the displacement a form of ‘segregation’.

On Friday, the DHS once again delayed the plans to relocate the Lucerne men, saying that they won’t be transferred downtown until October 19. 

New York City's Department of Homeless Services announced last month that roughly 300 people living at a makeshift shelter in the Lucerne Hotel will be moved to a Radisson hotel in the Financial District (pictured) after Upper West Side residents complained

New York City’s Department of Homeless Services announced last month that roughly 300 people living at a makeshift shelter in the Lucerne Hotel will be moved to a Radisson hotel in the Financial District (pictured) after Upper West Side residents complained

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The Upper West Side emerged as a flashpoint of the debate over NYC's homeless initiative as some members of the largely affluent community complained that drug use, drug deals and public urination had become a common sights on their streets

The Upper West Side emerged as a flashpoint of the debate over NYC’s homeless initiative as some members of the largely affluent community complained that drug use, drug deals and public urination had become a common sights on their streets 

A group of presumably homeless people pass around a bottle of alcohol out in the open at the corner of W 79th Street and Broadway in the Upper West Side on September 3 amid outrage from locals who said Mayor Bill de Blasio's move to house homeless in hotels had led to their streets being overrun by drug use and public lewdness

A group of presumably homeless people pass around a bottle of alcohol out in the open at the corner of W 79th Street and Broadway in the Upper West Side on September 3 amid outrage from locals who said Mayor Bill de Blasio’s move to house homeless in hotels had led to their streets being overrun by drug use and public lewdness 

A homeless man sleeps on a chair at the corner of W 80th Street and Broadway in the Upper West Side on September 3

A homeless man sleeps on a chair at the corner of W 80th Street and Broadway in the Upper West Side on September 3

Meanwhile, the mayor’s office is fielding new criticism from residents of the Financial District who say they felt blindsided by the relocation of homeless to their area.  

Critics formed a Facebook group called ‘Downtown NYCers for Safe Streets’ shortly after the DHS announced its plan to convert the Radisson on William Street into the area’s first-ever traditional shelter.  

‘We believe that our residents should have been notified in advance of this possibility and now that it has been agreed to without our knowledge, we need to make our voices heard,’ the page description reads.    

One post on the page provides members with a template to raise their concerns with city leaders. The template highlights a number of schools and neighborhoods in the area as an argument for why it isn’t a good fit for the shelter. 

‘I am extremely concerned for the safety and welfare of my family and for my community given the reports coming out of the Lucerne hotel this past summer,’ the template states. 

‘Please don’t permit the move on October 5. At the very least the move should be delayed to give the local community, which is already dealing with an increase in crime and unstable people in the street and in the subway, due notice. 

‘Many people in the neighborhood are organizing and will be taking this to the press and to court, if necessary.’ 

Another post on the page suggests that the group should hire the same lawyer who helped another group on the Upper West Side – the West Side Community Organization – in their fight to remove people from the Lucerne. 

The post asks members whether they would be interested in pooling funds to retain services from the lawyer, Randy Mastro. 

Two Financial District residents voiced their concerns in letters to the editor of the Tribeca Tribune as well.  

‘We FiDi mothers have been the pioneers in raising families in what was once a primarily business/tourist destination. We will not stand quietly while the administration imposes such a blatantly dangerous situation on our families,’ a woman named Vicki Raikes wrote. 

‘I have great compassion for the homeless but moving them in a few blocks from my son where drug use was clear is not appropriate,’ another woman, who identified herself as ‘A FiDi Mom’, wrote. 

‘These human beings deserve help not a hotel room with no medical and no counseling. And residents deserve to raise their kids without fear of witnessing drug use and homeless individuals who are ill screaming day and night (oh yes 4am) yelling obscenities on every corner. 

‘They are ill, they need help not a hotel.’   


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