Posted on July 26, 2020 at 1:13 pm by Carol Tannenhauser
By Carol Tannenhauser
Some of the homeless men being transferred to The Lucerne Hotel on 79th Street this Monday are being moved from another hotel where there was friction with local residents, according to one of the homeless men.
The man, who goes by the name “Da Homeless Hero” and asked that we not use his formal name, says that there are many active drug users at the hotel and he is concerned that a similar situation will occur on the Upper West Side.
On Thursday, Councilmember Helen Rosenthal and Project Renewal — the nonprofit that runs the shelter — announced that the men would be moved to The Lucerne, a hotel at 201 West 79th Street at the corner of Amsterdam Avenue on Monday. The men are coming from two East Village shelters — the Kenton Hall Men’s Shelter and the Third Street Men’s Shelter — both of which work with men dealing with drug addiction.
But some are not coming directly from those shelters, according to Da Homeless Hero. Instead they are coming from the Washington Jefferson Hotel on West 51st Street.
And there appears to have been tension with the community there. A real estate broker was fired a few weeks ago after confronting people who were standing in front of the hotel. The broker apparently rolled — or “threw,” according to a block association president — beer bottles at them. “I would just like to take a simple walk with my dog to the Dunkin’ Donuts, but now every day that walk requires stepping over multiple beer bottles, a used syringe, and a dirty condom,” the broker, Scott Sobol, told The Post. Another resident of the building that includes the hotel told ABC News that she now travels with pepper spray when she leaves her apartment.
Da Homeless Hero, who is 51 years old and has “struggled with homelessness” all his life after growing up in the foster care system, confirmed that there has been tension in that neighborhood. (Documents he sent to the Rag confirm he is a resident there.) “Things didn’t work out in the community,” he wrote in an email to the Rag.
DHS and Project Renewal “have pulled the wool over your eyes and led you to believe that you are receiving 283 men in recovery,” he wrote in a comment on our original story. “That is a lie. Most of those coming are active drug users who would rather stay where they at doing what they know than to go to a new area where they have to find out where to get their drugs, and where they can use without being bothered by law enforcement. The shelters we’re coming from are drug dens and the surrounding area is a haven for drugs. It won’t take long before they adapt to your community and find a way to make that a comfortable place to do what they’ve been doing. Substance use disorder is a complex issue and without proper treatment you can’t expect a change of venue to be the cure all.”
Da Homeless Hero says that there were considerable community complaints, and property destruction at the hotel.
“The DHS representative explained that it’s difficult to find placement for us and if we mess this one up, we may have no choice but to return back to the shelters,” he wrote.
DHS and Project Renewal did not respond to requests for comment over the weekend. The Washington Jefferson Hotel also did not respond to requests for comment.
WSR sent the comment to Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, who wrote back: “Thx I am very aware…” Brewer said she is gathering information and plans to speak more with the Rag about the issue. Asked for comment, Councilmember Helen Rosenthal referred the Rag to Project Renewal.
Da Homeless Hero said he appreciates Project Renewal’s services, and the organization has helped people committed to recovery such as himself. He explained more of his story to us.
“I’m a product of the foster care system since the age of two years old,” Da Homeless Hero wrote. “I was on the streets by the age of 10 and discharged ironically by the age of 12/13 years old. I’ve struggled with homelessness throughout my life.”
“I am a resident of the shelter system under Project Renewal and lived in Kenton Hall (a congregate shelter) up until two months ago. I was transferred to the Washington Jefferson Hotel in an effort to maintain social distancing, which is nearly impossible in the dorm-style settings at the downtown shelters. I am currently in recovery and I attend Project Renewal’s Recovery Center located in their 3rd Street building. I’ve committed to receiving treatment, which Project Renewal is great at providing. I look forward to obtaining supportive housing hopefully in the Bronx.
“I’m one of the outspoken shelter residents who write in a newsletter we produce at the Recovery Center. I write under the name of Da Homeless Hero. My objective is to give a voice to those of us residing in the shelter system and to initiate change for the better.
“I fought to be moved from the shelter to a hotel because I grew tired of the constant overdoses, the open-air drug market, among other things. I’ve never lived like that despite my being homeless…”
The city has been moving residents from congregate shelters to private hotels throughout the five boroughs since the pandemic began, as part of a plan to stem the spread of the coronavirus among this high-risk population. As of a month ago, 139 out of NYC’s 700 hotels — 20% — were occupied by people who are homeless, according to NY1.
“It’s keeping some cash flow going for the hotels, (and) we were there. We stepped up when the city had a need,” Vijay Dandapani, the leader of the city’s Hotel Association, said. “Why this happened? They are in shelters in a congregate settings that is arguably, or most definitely, not good for them from a pandemic standpoint. So here they are in individual rooms, you are reasonably well-protected from the virus.” In April, the association landed a $78 million initial contract to find hotels for the homeless. At the time, coronavirus raged across the city. The city’s hotels saw no sign their business would return anytime soon. So the booking started.
Multiple shelter residents living in hotels told NY1 they were told to expect to stay in these new locations for about six months. (DHS Commissioner Steven) Banks told us there is no move-out date.
‘We are going to be governed by public health concerns, and at the point at which it is safe to resume operations of congregate shelters and stop using commercial hotels, we will do that,’ Banks said.
The city receives 75% of the money for the hotels from FEMA. The city still has to pay for other costs, including services.