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Downtown SafePress Releases

Press Release · October 16, 2020


Judge Could Evict Residents From 52 William Street
If City Moves Them Into Building Before Ruling

For Immediate Release: October 16, 2020


New York State Supreme Court Justice Debra A. James today set November 16 as the date she will hear arguments on a suit filed by Lower Manhattan residents and businesses to prevent New York City from illegally transferring 235 men from a homeless shelter on the Upper West Side to the former Radisson Hotel at 52 William Street.

Judge James did not grant the community a requested temporary restraining order to prevent the City from moving homeless men into the building. However, she stated that if she were to rule in favor of the community’s petition she could evict the men from the building.

“The City has repeatedly moved these men from shelter to shelter, disrupting their lives without any plan,” said Christopher Brown of Downtown New Yorkers. “It would be unconscionable for the City to move the men into 52 William Street knowing that they might be forced to move again in several weeks. The neighborhood is committed to its ongoing legal strategy on this matter.”

The suit by Downtown New Yorkers, Inc. asserts that the city is exploiting the current humanitarian crisis to cover up its own mismanagement, specifically stating that the proposed transfer was not prompted by coronavirus considerations as it must be to fall under the emergency rules for COVID-19-related contracts. The suit notes that there is no public health rationale for the move because the Lucerne Hotel did not require de-densification. De-densification was accomplished when the homeless men were moved from the shelter to the Lucerne Hotel in July.

According to the suit, the proposed move to 52 William Street is motivated by political expediency rather than by public health policy. In fact, the City initially attempted to move the men from the Lucerne Hotel to the permanent shelter at the Harmonia Hotel after objections from Upper West Side residents. When the City received criticism for evicting the homeless already at the Harmonia to make room for the men from the Lucerne, it abruptly announced the shift of the men to 52 William Street without any planning, analysis or public notice.

Brown said: “The residents of Lower Manhattan fully support these homeless individuals, and we feel that City has reacted recklessly and erratically by repeatedly uprooting them based on political pressure. Even the social service provider believes that the homeless men are better served by remaining on the Upper West Side, where they have access to extensive social programs — including a successful jobs program — that are not available in Lower Manhattan.”

The suit notes that 52 William Street had been used to house the homeless from April through July without protest by the community, which recognized the public health urgency at the outset and peak of the pandemic.

There are numerous issues related to the 52 William Street site that require analysis and consideration, including its location within 300 feet of four schools and within blocks of 12 schools. Lower Manhattan is currently home to multiple shelters and other facilities for the homeless, and the streets of the neighborhood in the immediate vicinity are narrow and congested.

At two Community Board 1 meetings in October, City officials were not forthcoming on how the Lucerne location — where the men have been since July — was a threat to public health of the residents, as would have been the case had they stayed in permanent congregate shelter in the East Village from which they were originally moved. During a meeting on October 8, it was revealed that the City announced the move to 52 William Street before its homeless services provider could even examine the facility to see if it was suitable.

According to public reports and statements by the homeless men themselves some of the homeless men have psychiatric and substance abuse issues. This would be the residents’ third move since the start of the pandemic, and the individuals themselves have said that another move would further destabilize them.

A Lucerne resident named Shams, on behalf of himself and the other men at the facility, told Community Board 1 that the men are thriving on the Upper West Side and do not want to leave. He said: “Many of us at the Lucerne do not wish to move. We don’t want to move because we’ve been moved around quite a bit. And just up and moving like that, especially with such short notice, is traumatizing, to say the least.”

Speaking publicly at an October 12 Upper West Side Open Hearts press conference that is recorded on Facebook, he said: “I guarantee you if this move goes through, lives will be lost, people will be traumatized, dehumanized, and destabilized. They might turn to substance use to cope, which could kill them.” And later he said: “I say to the West Side Community Organization, Mayor Bill de Blasio, DHS and all stakeholders, if you care even a little bit about shelter residents, as you claim to, listen to one resident myself right now. Call it off. Call it off. Our lives are at stake.”

Media contact: [email protected]

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