New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

New York County Politics Manhattan Electeds Respond to Lucerne Ruling by William Engel

Manhattan Electeds Respond to Lucerne Ruling

A new ruling regarding the Lucerne Hotel homeless shelter has ignited controversy up and down the borough.

On Thursday, Nov. 26, Justice Debra James of the Manhattan Supreme Court issued a ruling to relocate the 240 homeless men sheltered at the Lucerne Hotel on the Upper West Side. Their new home will be the Raddison, a hotel in the Financial District.

Since late July, the Lucerne has been a major matter of contention. In the summer, it started functioning as an emergency pandemic shelter for the homeless. While some Upper West Siders were happy to accommodate the men, others complained that they brought down the quality of the neighborhood, citing instances of violence, public urination and vandalism.

James, who issued the ruling, called the move “rational” in light of the pandemic. The Raddison consists of single-bed rooms, so each resident will get a room to themselves – making COVID less likely to spread among them. The West Side Community Organization concurred, calling the decision “a win for all, especially the men who have been housed at a temporary hotel shelter since July.”

But the borough’s lawmakers don’t all agree. Councilmember Mark Levine (D-Manhattan Valley, Manhattanville) argued that with COVID-19 on the rise, relocating the homeless is the last thing we should be doing.

 “With COVID-19 on the rise again in New York City, the risk to vulnerable New Yorkers is rapidly increasing,” said Levine. Hotels offer a safer alternative to the risks of congregant settings. Relocating New Yorkers experiencing homelessness now only increases the chances that the virus will spread. Amidst an epidemic, safety must come first. I regret the court’s decision to relocate the residents of the Lucerne at this precarious moment.”

Councilmember Helen Rosenthal (D-Central Park, Lincoln Square) also denounced the decision, calling the City’s approach to the homelessness crisis short-sighted and dangerous.

“We are very disappointed that Judge James has given City Hall the green light to uproot the men staying at the Lucerne,” said Rosenthal. “We desperately need a thoughtful perspective on our homelessness crisis, not the Mayor’s reactive and, sadly, destructive approach. Moving human beings from place to place as if they were pieces of furniture can no longer be acceptable. Our fundamental public policy priority should be to end homelessness once and for all. As a first step, this means that New Yorkers struggling to overcome homelessness and substance addiction deserve consistency and support, not chaos and hostility.”

Meanwhile, Councilmember Ben Kallos (D-Yorkville, Lenox Hill) said that the Lucerne Hotel shelter shouldn’t have been a point of contention in the first place, calling the neighborhood backlash against the shelter unwarranted. Two weeks ago, he wrote an op-ed for amNY detailing how we can utilize the abundant housing space we have to accommodate our homeless, which is available here.

“I would like to see folks following the model we have on the Eastside, where we’ve opened hotels and beds for the homeless, and done so with little fanfare and without any community opposition,” said Kallos. “I co-founded the Eastside Taskforce for Homeless Outreach and Services (ETHOS), with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer (D) and State Senator Liz Krueger (D-Upper East Side, Lenox Hill). And when we opened a hotel of the same size as Lucerne to the homeless, they found themselves welcomed. We had a dramatically different experience.”

Kallos also concurred with Levine’s point that, in light of the pandemic, now is not the time to move 240 men across the borough.

“Just because a judge said that Mayor de Blasio can move these homeless men out of their homes during a pandemic, doesn’t mean he should,” said Kallos. “As we face a second wave of this virus, we should leave these men alone.”

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