The battle over use of the Lucerne Hotel for men needing safe shelter in the pandemic appears to be over, but the war over how homeless people are treated continued to escalate.
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration announced Friday that the men moved into the Lucerne, at 79th St. and Amsterdam Ave., on July 27 would be moved again before October 6 to a newly created permanent shelter in what had been the Radisson Wall Street hotel on Williams street. It will be the first such permanent shelter in the Financial District.
As a result, families at the Harmonia shelter on East 31st St. will not have to move to make way for the men from the Lucerne, a displacement that had stirred criticism of the administration. Residents of two other shelters, at Flatlands in Brooklyn and Long Island City Queens, will also remain where they are, a city spokesman said.
“After conducting a review of how best to implement the Mayor’s directives, we determined that we needed to make changes in the original plan that was developed very quickly and we took a second look to figure out the most effective path forward,” said the spokesman, Isaac McGinn of the Department of Homeless Services. “We are halting previously planned moves and modifying the City’s approach after the Mayor’s directive to conduct a thoughtful review.”
The use of the Lucerne as a shelter had created division on the Upper West Side. Opponents hailed the decision to abandon the Lucerne as a shelter, but the principal voice defending the presence of the men at the hotel condemned the decision to move them.
“The Mayor’s decision is the pinnacle of cowardliness,” said Corinne Low, co-founder of the Upper West Side Open Hearts Initiative, which had organized a number of activities to demonstrate support from the neighborhood for the men in the Lucerne. “The Mayor has made a full transformation fro so-called progressive Park Slope dad to Upper East Sider, siding with his neighbor, Randy Mastro, against the most vulnerable people of the city, people he ran claiming to represent.”
Low, a business professor at the Wharton School, said that the new shelter in lower Manhattan should be used for homeless people still in a congregate shelter on Wards Island and the men at the Lucerne should stay there.
“The only thing that is accomplished through this move is further trauma,” she added. “If Randy Mastro’s clients actually cared one iota about the people involved, they would not want to put them through a traumatizing move, that will disrupt their care and put them at risk of relapse.”
Most of the men in the Lucerne suffer from substance abuse or mental health challenges. The city said their new shelter will be closer to their support services.
Mastro is a prominent attorney and former Deputy Mayor for Rudolph Giuliani. A group called West Side Community Organization hired him to represent their concern that use of the Lucerne as a shelter had brought crime and disruption to the neighborhood.
Mastro negotiated an agreement with the city to end use of the Lucerne as of September 30. But when UWS Open Hearts and others objected, the mayor halted the move saying he wanted to conduct a larger review. Friday’s announcement was the outcome of that review.
“To his credit, Mayor de Blasio has honored his commitment and kept his word,” Mastro said. “And in the process, he has recognized two fundamental truths: SRO hotels are not where we should be housing the homeless. And what has been happening on the Upper West Side as a result of housing so many homeless adults in three SRO hotels in such close proximity is simply ‘not acceptable.’ So, today’s announcement is a major step forward in doing right by this neighborhood and this vulnerable population.”
The two other Upper West Side hotels converted to shelters are the Belleclaire on Broadway at 77th Street and the Belnord on West 87th Street.
“We look forward to continuing our constructive dialogue with the City Administration,” Mastro said. “We appreciate today’s developments and look forward to even more progress in the weeks and months ahead.”
That was just one signal that the fight over the Lucerne had become a symbol of a larger conflict that would continue into next year as the city selects a new mayor. “Now onward,” the West Side Community Organization said in a tweet. “#SAVETHEUWS”
The Open Hearts Initiative organized a candlelight vigil outside the Lucerne on Saturday night. They announced that the participants would include Maya Wiley, former counsel to Mayor de Blasio, who is planning a race to succeed him.
“The mayor’s decision to put the fears of a few over the collaboration of the many, is shortsighted and undermines a wonderful example of how we can come together in this crisis to solve real problems with humanity,” Wiley said Saturday.