Dozens of homeless people have been living at the Excelsior Hotel at 45 West 81st street, as the city continues to rely on temporary private housing while officials work on longer-term solutions. The residents are families with children, according to the Department of Homeless Services (DHS).
There are 40 people in the hotel, State Rep. Linda Rosenthal confirmed to us.
A spokesperson for the DHS wrote that the city is “renting some rooms in this commercial hotel to help meet its legal obligation to provide shelter to homeless New Yorkers who would otherwise be turned out onto the street.”
“Although this hotel is not being converted into a homeless shelter, DHS provides 24/7 security and on-site social services for families during their stay there. This administration’s long-term goal is to open additional shelters and end the City’s decades-long practice of using hotels when necessary to meet its legal obligation to provide shelter.”
DHS did not immediately have information on how much the city pays per night for the rooms.
Taesha Caesar is one of the mothers staying at the hotel. We spoke to her as she wheeled a double stroller out of the hotel, heading for Key Foods on Amsterdam Avenue. The food the city serves, she said, “is not that appetizing or healthy, but, thank God, we get food stamps.”
Caesar has been living at The Excelsior for almost three months, while waiting for a placement into a permanent apartment. “We love it here,” she said. “We went to the Museum of Natural History, Central Park, the library. We went to many places in the neighborhood, because it’s beautiful. They have lots of good people out here, really nice people.” She says there are three floors of homeless families staying at the Excelsior.
Others have expressed concern about the arrangement. A neighbor from the next building, who told us of the situation, wrote that some people in nearby buildings have been trying to get information about what’s going on. The siting of homeless shelters — temporary and permanent — has been a flashpoint in neighborhoods throughout the city for years, including on the Upper West Side. In 2012, the DHS installed a homeless shelter in a notorious building on 95th Street without public review, sparking outrage. Half of that shelter is now permanent affordable housing for veterans.
The homeless shelter population in the city jumped under Mayor Bloomberg from 31,000 in 2002 to more than 50,000. Bloomberg began placing residents in hotels and other private buildings, sometimes alarming neighbors. The practice has continued under Mayor de Blasio as homelessness has continued to rise, to 59,000 shelter residents as of Tuesday night. De Blasio has launched a plan to add supportive housing, but housing groups say the governor is dragging his heels.
On Yelp, some people staying at the hotel have complained.
“Unbelievable! I have stayed at this hotel on the upper west side in a good neighborhood for 5 years, and was never was notified when I booked his year that this has become a welfare hotel. I am now having to pay 200 plus a night to have homeless people live in a hotel for free while the city pays half as much and pays a security team to watch over the sixth floor to make sure nothing bad happens. And I booked on orbitz and it said nowhere that this is a welfare hotel. Now I am not bad mouthing homeless, but they stay at an expensive hotel for free and they have to have security just for them! Ps one star for excelsior hotel”
Another reviewer had a similar concern.
“THIS IS A WELFARE HOTEL. On my way up the elevator after I checked in, there was a woman with me who had a shopping cart full of two black trash bags full of her belongings. Once we got to her floor, I found there was a security guard (I could not tell if this person was armed or not). I also had cause to come back to the hotel very late one night and let’s just say there are a number of unsavory characters roaming the hotel at that hour. I have nothing against anyone getting a little help when needed, but for what you pay for this hotel (in my case more than $300 per night), I think that is enough not to be staying in a welfare hotel.”
Reporting contributed by Carol Tannenhauser.