Nonprofit Offers New Details About Homeless Shelter Set Up Inside Local Hotel

By Carol Tannenhauser

The de Blasio administration was in the process of phasing out the use of commercial hotels as a stopgap method of housing homeless people when the coronavirus hit New York City. Among those most at risk of contracting and spreading the virus were the 17,000 single men who lived in the city’s congregate homeless shelters, where dormitory-style sleeping arrangements and communal meals made social distancing impossible.

“COVID dramatically changed our reality,” said Isaac McGinn, spokesman for the NYC Department of Homeless Services (DHS). “Commercial hotels as a tool took on a new value. Some of the things that made them difficult before were actually features that were effective in responding to COVID, such as individual units where meals could be eaten. In the middle of March, we pivoted and started using commercial hotels both as isolation facilities for those who were sick, and to proactively relocate people who were not sick, so they could effectively isolate.”

The latter was the case with the Belnord Hotel on West 87th Street between Amsterdam and Broadway. On the morning of May 21st, 101 men arrived there from a congregate shelter in the Bronx, run by a nonprofit social services agency called CUCS (Center for Urban Community Services), under a contract from DHS. The program had been transferred along with its participants to the Belnord Hotel.

The neighborhood was unprepared for their arrival, still deep in quarantine and fearful. A resident of the Belnord apartments across the street noticed them and queried WSR.

“What’s going on at the Belnord Hotel on 87th St?” wrote Julia Vitullo-Martin. “4 busloads of people, mostly men & mostly unmasked, pouring into tiny, former boutique hotel.”

“It’s not how we like to enter a community,” said Greggory Mendenhall, the CUCS program director at the Belnord Hotel. “Normally we’d give notice, lay the groundwork, explain who we are and what we do. But these are not normal times.”

“DHS has been moving about 1,000 people a week for the past two weeks,” McGinn said, “at a speed and scale never before seen.” He estimated that 12,000 of the city’s single homeless population out of a total of 17,000 have thus far been “strategically relocated” to commercial hotels. On average the cost to the city is $174 a night per room, plus social services, which brings it to $237 a night. The average cost of a bed in a traditional shelter is $158, plus social services.

Is the use of hotels to house homeless people once again a stopgap measure, or might it signal a permanent policy shift?

“We’ve committed to using commercial hotels for as long as we’re combating COVID-19,” McGinn answered. “This is about our fighting back against this virus, but at the same time, continuing to explore policy responses.” One thing is certain, the new residents of the Belnord will be there for at least four to six months.

Who are they?

“Most of the gentlemen we serve are older,” Mendenhall said. “They’ve had difficult lives, a lot of trauma, a lot of compounding medical issues, like diabetes, heart disease, and mental illness. Overall, they’re just looking to get some stability in their lives and health, and move on to the fundamental source of stability, which is a home.”

CUCS’s goals match theirs, he said. They have a primary-care clinic and a full-time psychiatrist on site, and case workers to help clients prepare to live independently and find appropriate permanent housing when they’re ready. There is also 24-hour security. Mendenhall said the program is continuing to meet its goals despite the pandemic. They have placed 22 formerly homeless men in permanent housing since January.

Another goal is “to cause as little disruption to the community as possible,” Mendenhall added. To that end, they have transformed a third-floor roof garden in the hotel into a common space for the men to socialize (distantly) and smoke (if they must), rather than doing so in front of the building.

WSR asked DHS if the UWS was getting more than its “fair share” of facilities — meaning that the neighborhood does not have a disproportionate share of shelters compared to other areas. After all, less than three weeks before, the Hotel Belleclaire on Broadway and 77th Street, had also been converted to a temporary emergency men’s homeless shelter. McGinn said he’d “get back to us on that.”

Mendenhall asks anyone who has questions or concerns about the Belnord Hotel or any of its residents to call him at the hotel — 212-873-5222  — or email him at Greggory.Mendenhall@cucs.org. And if you’d like to help out, donations of men’s clothing are always appreciated. “Many of the guys come in with only the clothes they’re wearing,” Mendenhall said. Contact him or drop by — 209 West 87th Street — to make arrangements.

NEWS, REAL ESTATE | 49 comments | permalink
    1. Leon says:

      Thank you for this very helpful update. I am glad to hear that they seem to be thinking about how best to handle this and providing some services. Still, that is a lot of people to just plunk down in a neighborhood.

      I’m sure I will get backlash for this, but seeing as it sounds like these men unfortunately have no ties to any specific place, why can’t they be relocated out of Manhattan, or New York City for that matter? The equivalent bed and services in another part of New York State would be a fraction of the cost. The city can make it optional but provide some incentive for them to do so.

      • sam says:

        New York has literally been sued over attempts to relocate homeless people out of state before, but sure…let’s just keep attempting to foist our responsibilities onto other states. https://www.wsj.com/articles/new-york-city-sued-over-program-that-moves-homeless-to-other-municipalities-11575412379

        • Leon says:

          I am not encouraging NYC to force them to leave. I am encouraging NYC to create an incentive for them to leave that is a win-win for all parties. The city spends less on homeless services, has a smaller homeless population (making many residents happier), and the resident potentially gets some money and can live in a more spacious place, likely with better support services. And the resident has to opt in, not just get thrown on a bus.

          • Bruce Bernstein says:

            Leon, have you thought through the workability of this “proposal”? The social service/ health infrastructures for homeless are much more developed in NYC. Jobs are actually more available here, not to mention the public transportation to get to those jobs. Finally, how do you propose to “incent” homeless to move upstate? If you give them cash payments, why will they not just move back after a few months?

            The primary driver of any homeless policy should be offering the housing and social services they need, not emptying the city of poor people so the rest of us don’t have to look at them.

      • Bruce E. Bernstein says:

        reply to Leon:

        where does it say in the article that the senior men in the shelter have “no ties to a specific place”? why would you assume they have no family, no friends, no regular health care providers? it’s excellent that there is a primary care clinic on site but many of these conditions (e.g. diabetes) require ongoing specialist care.

        I recognize shipping them upstate will solve the problem of upper middle class UWSers not having to look at them. But has Leon considered how this solution meets the social service needs of the seniors? will they be able to be placed in permanent housing upstate? Will they get the social support they need? Will there be any job possibilities?

        What role, if any, do these considerations play in your calculus?

        • Leon says:

          This is exactly why I suggest that they opt-in to being moved, rather than being forced to do so. I agree with you that it is not ideal to force someone to move hundreds of miles away. But if someone is living a life where they are being shuttled from shelter to shelter, my guess is that many of them do not have ties to the area. I admit that I could be wrong, but I think that is a very safe bet.

          And for those with no ties, the services they are receiving can be provided much more affordably elsewhere. They likely can have better living conditions elsewhere. There might be more jobs available elsewhere. Increasingly, businesses are moving jobs away from NY because it is cheaper to operate elsewhere. Similarly, if these people eventually want to be able to afford to have their own home (which should be the goal), it is likely cheaper to do so elsewhere.

    2. nycityny says:

      How is a dorm style BED $158 per night while a fully appointed hotel ROOM is $174 per night? The math doesn’t add up.

      A $3,000/month studio apartment is $100 per night (and that’s a pricey studio). Why does a shelter cost so much more for so much less?

    3. Charlene says:

      I’m a female, homeless, 66 senior in Orange County, California
      I sleep in a car every night In
      a parking lot. I have yet to see any opportunities at any hotel, or any kind of place to go for shelter.

      • lynn says:

        Try this link for California: https://www.shelterlistings.org/county/ca-orange-county.html

        Shelter Listings is dedicated to serving the homeless and low-income. This list has homeless shelters, halfway houses, affordable housing, etc. The database consists of over 3,000 listings and includes emergency shelters, homeless shelters, day shelters, transitional housing, shared housing, residential drug alcohol rehabilitation programs and permanent affordable housing.

    4. Just a thought, a data point which may or may not apply here.

      I was walking home from Trader Joe’s last night (Tuesday) about 9, walking north up Broadway on the east side of the street, between 78th &79th, across from the Apthorp, near the recently abandoned New Wave Diner (a big loss in my little world. Once full of the photos & fans of a shining Cyndi Lauper, & now just a sad empty shell… but I digress).

      If you know that block, it’s covered with unlit scaffolding; kind of gloomy at night.

      So I’m walking, alone, and out of the gloom steps a man, shirtless, yet with a coat on (It was 84 degrees). Wordlessly he held out his hand and wordlessly I shook my head without stopping and that’s when he leapt at me, grabbing at my shoulder and chest with a loud snarl.

      Need I mention that he wasn’t wearing a mask? You would think in his profession… anyway, I didn’t even drop my groceries; I just pushed him back: hard. I may be 70, but I’m no pushover. And that was it, almost. He went silently back into the gloom and I continued on my way. All of… 20 seconds had elapsed?

      I got to the end of the block and there were 2 European men (I assume) who’d been watching me.

      “He jumped you?” the taller of the two said. “Yup.” I replied.

      He said (pointing to his companion) “He jumped him last night… and was throwing quarters at him. He also attacked some woman the other day”

      “He’s a f* nut”. There seemed to be nothing to add, & I was finally beginning to feel a little shaken, so I continued home.

      Once home, though, I thought it would be wrong to just let it end there, if this guy was a serial attacker. So I called 311 and reported this attempted mugging (right?) to the city, stating that this guy (who I believe is new to the area, unlike the tall young guy who screams at traffic from the median strip @ 79th & B’way, & who I’ve noticed (a little warily) for awhile… I don’t know if that other screamer attacks people, though) was probably somewhat mentally challenged and perhaps could use an official intervention of some kind, not necessarily the police… but maybe. Anyway, somebody. At the very least, the whole social distancing thing between us had been smashed to smithereens.

      “Nick” told me he’d send a car from some agency. So there it is. He gave me a number too: 311-02720129.

      So is this a new homeless mentally ill neighbor, new to our neighborhood? Or does he live in one of those new hotel rooms this article references? Dunno.

      Anyway, here’s your happy ending: same situation, a day later; the scaffolding THIS evening (Wednesday) was ALL LIT UP! No more gloom and consequently no gloom dwellers.

      Seriously, though; while I feel sorry for this fellow, I did have some bad moments last night when I reflected on this incident from a covid19 perspective… so I took a shower, and then a migraine kicked in.

      Ah, New York City; just please please don’t let those 1970s come back; I don’t know that I can take them again, this time.

      • chris says:

        you should’ve said hello and welcomed him to the neighborhood

      • Beattie says:

        He is unlikely from the hotel. It appears they are more stable occupants. Not chronically unwell people who live on the streets.

        However yes, I will be leaving NYC later this year. As a 65 year old women I think I will leave. Luckily I can.

      • Kat_77 says:

        I’m sorry you had to experience that. Happy to hear however that you were not harmed or hurt. Thank you for calling 311 & trying to remedy the situation. I appreciate that you were looking out for your fellow neighbors. I walk that block all the time & now will be extra cautious.

      • jim79 says:

        Why did you report this attempted mugging to 311 instead of 911? Just because you got away safely doesn’t mean that the next person would be so lucky – especially since he got away with it with you.
        Next time call 911 and have this menace taken off the street at least temporarily before he hurts someone.

        • Jim79- Yeah, I was really conflicted over whether to call 911 or 311… first I tried to flag down a passing cop car, but no dice. By the time I got home I was even wondering if a cop was a good idea, especially with the climate right now of “defund the police” of “cops shouldn’t handle the issue of the homeless”, etc… and I equated 911 with cops and 311 with some other nameless (to me) city agency.

          I finally went with 311, but I’m not sure even now that I handled this correctly.

          Anybody else have a take on what should be done in a similar situation? -L.

    5. Sarah says:

      I can hear the racist NIMBY rumblings already. Can everyone please remember that, even if you have no compassion in your hearts, the alternative to housing these folks individually is dorm-style shelters serving as COVID-19 hotspots which will keep the virus alive in our city, put further strain on medical and social services, etc., and put YOU and YOUR LOVED ONES at further risk?

      • Juan says:

        Why are you presuming they are all black and we are racist? Who is being the racist? The homeless guy in front of Victoria’s Secret at 85 and Broadway is white. The woman who sat at 79 and Broadway whose dog attacked the kid was white. At least some of the guys who hang out around 73 and Broadway are white.

        As we have unfortunately been reminded recently, there is way, way too much racism in the world today. But stop trying to apply it to every situation out there or it will become like the boy who cried wolf.

      • Bruce E. Bernstein says:

        Sarah didn’t call any particular posting or poster “racist.” But i fail to see how anyone can read the WSR comments section and not come to the conclusion that racism is widespread on the UWS, and that it underlies some (not all) NIMBY comments.

        Isn’t it time we recognized how widespread racism is, and what a blight it is on our city? Don’t you find some of the comments incredibly distasteful?

        I give Sarah “props” for speaking out about this.

        • Juan says:

          Bruce,

          Did you read my post? Sara very specifically used the word racist. Though I don’t totally agree with the rest of her point, I respect where it is coming from, but she lost all credibility by using the word racist. I completely agree with you that there is a ton of racism nationally and even in our neighborhood. But this is not an example of that. I cited very specific examples of how the homeless problem near us is a color-blind one. And I am clearly not alone in thinking this.

          Please stop trying to out-virtue everyone here. It is very distasteful. You don’t realize how lucky you are to live on the UWS. The vast majority of people in this neighborhood, unlike in other parts of America, are racially tolerant people who want the best for their fellow citizens. There is still room for improvement, but if you want to call out people for racism and other offenses to your extreme left agenda (vs. the moderate left agenda of many of us – we are not Republicans), perhaps you should spend your time on other message boards populated by people who support Trump and his message of hatred. If you can miraculously convert some of them then perhaps we can get Trump and his type out of office and make this world a better place.

          • Bruce E. Bernstein says:

            Juan, it’s ironic that you started by saying “did you read my post?”, as you clearly skimmed lightly over what I wrote. Sarah didn’t call any PARTICULAR comment/ commenter racist.

            The rest of your posting is a personal attack diatribe. It can’t be totally answered in 100 words, but you and the others cite lots of old wheezes: Sarah is the real racist; I should go to another web site; etc. I agree that the majority of people I know on the UWS are not overtly racist, but the comments section in WSR has opened my eyes to how deep the problem is in our neighborhood. Apparently it has not opened yours.

      • Bruce Bernstein says:

        Sarah didn’t call any particular posting or poster “racist.” But i fail to see how anyone can read the WSR comments section and not come to the conclusion that racism is widespread on the UWS, and that it underlies some (not all) NIMBY comments.

        Isn’t it time we recognized how widespread racism is, and what a blight it is on our city? Don’t you find some of the comments incredibly distasteful?

        I give Sarah “props” for speaking out about this.

    6. Chris says:

      237 a night in say Western Massachusetts could get a homeless family of 4 a three bedroom two bath home with a pool and a two car garage food for the month and transportation and health care.

    7. AD says:

      8am this morning a man with a little white dog screaming obscenities at the top of his lungs. Seems the manager of the building across the street with scaffolding for a year now, was trying to roust the guy and his dog from sleeping on the sidewalk under the shed. The verbal assault against the manager continued for 30 minutes. The manager folded his arms and did not engage. Finally the guy and dog left. So. Something new on our block. Happy summer.

    8. 123Train says:

      McGinn knows full well that the UWS has far more than its fair share of facilities. And he’s fooling nobody by calling this facility “temporary.” It is here to stay.

      The streets north of 86th Street, by way of City policy, have long been a dump site for “temporary” facilities for homeless and mentally ill people from other neighborhoods.

      As a community, we are weak and powerless, and we have zero support from CB7 or our so-called representatives. They, of course, are too busy rallying against developments that will improve this neighborhood.

      Good luck dodging menacing panhandlers and ranting lunatics on your next trip to the 96th Street subway stop.

      • Bruce E. Bernstein says:

        123train said:

        “Good luck dodging menacing panhandlers and ranting lunatics on your next trip to the 96th Street subway stop.”

        I have traveled to the 96th street subway stop and back every working day (along 95th, from Riverside) for the past 29 years. I can’t recall ever having been approached by a panhandler in the AM. On the way home, I often go by Westside Market, and on the way back on Bway I usually get one or two requests. I can’t recall them ever being “menacing” by any definition of the word.

        There is one guy I give to regularly, who is incredibly polite and non-intrusive. To the others, you might want to simply try acknowledging them with a smile and a polite “no thank you, but good luck.” 95-98% of the time they are happy to receive this small notice of humanity. I got this piece of advice from the Pope, by the way.

        As for “ranting lunatics”: it is true that you see some from time to time, but I don’t find it to be a daily or even weekly event. I can recall exactly one threatening situation in my 29 years in the neighborhood. maybe there were a few more that i can’t recall.

        Just the facts.

        • Rob G. says:

          Hmmm. You dismiss others’ personal experiences and concerns, then throw out some non-provable anecdotes and opinions of your own and call those “facts?”

      • Bruce Bernstein says:

        123train said:

        “Good luck dodging menacing panhandlers and ranting lunatics on your next trip to the 96th Street subway stop.”

        I have traveled to the 96th street subway stop and back every working day (along 95th, from Riverside) for the past 29 years. I can’t recall ever having been approached by a panhandler in the AM. On the way home, I often go by Westside Market, and on the way back on Bway I usually get one or two requests. I can’t recall them ever being “menacing” by any definition of the word.

        There is one guy I give to regularly, who is incredibly polite and non-intrusive. To the others, you might want to simply try acknowledging them with a smile and a polite “no thank you, but good luck.” 95-98% of the time they are happy to receive this small notice of humanity. I got this piece of advice from the Pope, by the way.

        As for “ranting lunatics”: it is true that you see some from time to time, but I don’t find it to be a daily or even weekly event. I can recall exactly one threatening situation in my 29 years in the neighborhood. maybe there were a few more that i can’t recall.

        Just the facts.

    9. Taylor says:

      This is kind of sad for the hotel. once this is all over i doubt anyone would want to stay at this hotel that was once a homeless shelter. Especially for $200/night with that history.

      also do they require that the homeless people stay in their rooms and not leave the hotel? I heard the bellclaire allows them to hang out in the streets.

      Same situation for bellclaire. my parents always stay at the bellclaire for weeks when they visit me. after this they are disgusted and will not be staying there for any of their future stays.

      • Nellie says:

        Taylor, YOU are the problem with the world right now. You must’ve grown up in a world where you were served everything. It’s actually pretty sad that in the end it’s about the money the hotels will lose and not about a human life. Your parents won’t stay in the hotel after a homeless person lived there? Just wow! I guess after all is said and done I just feel sorry for you. That you have such lack of compassion and are so very uneducated. Everyone is one bad decision,a couple missed paychecks or a pandemic away from being in the same situation as the homeless community.

      • davidaron60 says:

        Actually, both of these hotels were SROs before they became boutiques so its the cycle repeating itself once more. Learn your neighborhood’s history. Sorry it’s currently not posh enough for you. Perhaps it will cycle over again.

    10. Reggie says:

      I lived in the UWS for a couple of years and never had any issues with the homeless or the shelter residents. I did have some neighbors (long time residents) who were insufferable assholes, though! I’d bet good money those same assholes are the ones posting all these NIMBY comments here.

      • Jay says:

        I’d bet that the homeless could care less about the opinions of the curmudgeons on this blog.

      • lynn says:

        I lived on the UES for 30 years and I randomly encountered homeless people near 86th street. I’ve been on the UWS for nearly 10 years and I’ve watched the same group of homeless males (led by the ‘tie-dye guy) grow in numbers. Feel free to come over to 72nd street between Broadway and WEA for the weekend. I understand the same group travels throughout the 70’s but they really love my block. Right now there are 7 of them camped out between Joseph Pharmacy and Beer Culture, with lawn chairs, shopping carts, plus they’re shirtless and covered in scabs, scratching away and smoking pot, arguing amongst themselves, swinging from the scaffolding, shouting obscenities, and so on and so on. What a great neighborhood feeling! Why don’t people want to SEE and BELIEVE that there is a massive problem here?!

        • Marleen says:

          I agree there a problem even though some are not fully aware of it. I take walks in the evening and I’d say just about every 2 or 3 blocks, I have the men and the women asking me for money. This is not new but there are a greater number of the asking, and I see there is more aggression in the asking.

          • Marleen- I can attest to that aggression. It seems there are growing islands of the homeless every few blocks, recently. I take long walks in the evenings & they seem to be becoming more… adventurous as time goes on.

        • MAD says:

          This is getting more serious, especially with summer coming. This group used to hang out on 73rd/Bway until the Ansonia put up black screens/scrims so the men couldn’t back up to the buildings. If they are blocking access to the sidewalk and obstructing your right to pass, you can call the police. While the police might not do anything, at least you can try. This problem will not go away on its own.

        • HelenD says:

          You forgot to mention the music blaring! It sounds like a block party out there. I only went out for a few minutes but it was a shocking display. I feel bad for the girl carrying the sign for TJ’s and the customers who are still standing on that line winding around the block. Not to mention all the customers who came back to City Vet and are trying to stay socially distanced outside waiting for their dogs. It definitely doesn’t help that there’s construction at 3 spots on that side of the street and the other businesses are closed. 🙁

        • B.B. says:

          Have you walked around UES lately? There are tons of homeless not just around 86th street, but everywhere from 57th north to 96th.

          Sleeping and or camping out in doorways, under scaffolding, in bank ATM lobbies, going through supermarket/shop garbage bags, or just roaming around talking to people who aren’t there.

          Issue mainly was confined to areas along Lexington because of subway, but many are now complaining about Third, Second, First and even York. Thanks to SAS that entire far part of Yorkville has been opened up for easy access. In fact the R/W/Q trains likely rival 1/2/3 or A/C for numbers of homeless that ride up and down all day and night.

    11. Julie Bernstein says:

      It would be amazing if the city bought some 3D printers and materials and could train these men to make plastic shields so they would have an occupation.

    12. Terrie Lewis says:

      Sorrybut im on the west coast as i can relate none really can apply to me at this homeless endemic im still facing still on housing waiting list. Been in proftams on their waiting list too!women & children 1st. Single old NOW maybe ill die & make room for someone else on those damm waiting list Haaa

    13. ConcernedUWSider says:

      Carol Tannenhauser, PLEASE make sure McGinn “gets back to you” on the disproportionate amount the UWS is taking on. I think everyone needs to hear an answer and see real data on this but most of all, McGinn needs to follow through and be held responsible for an answer. Thank you and thank you for asking this important question.

    14. NYCLifer says:

      I don’t like the tone of the “fair share” question. Homeless people are PEOPLE. I’m sorry if they make you uncomfortable, but if you have the resources to house people, then they should be used to do just that.

      • NYClifer- You can write that homeless people are PEOPLE all you like, & it further illuminates nothing. But and then you write:

        “…if you have the resources to house people, then they should be used to do just that.”

        Well, that’s very noble and all (we’ll just leave spending on education and medical care out of this discussion for now), but let me ask you this: Do you lock your door at night, your apartment door? And do you own a couch? I mean, besides your bed?

        Well then, the solution writes (or rights) itself. If you’re dead set against the slightest hint of NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) then how about in your living room? I mean, if you get some like-minded neighbors to join in your crusade, the homeless problem entirely disappears, NYClifer, and you did it! Huzzah!

        Honestly, we’d throw you a parade.

        So you see, that way the city won’t have to shell out scarce tax dollars (and you wouldn’t BELIEVE how scare they’re gonna become in the future, either, as businesses close in droves, what with deBlasio’s knee on their necks (which is actually understandable in light of the pandemic, but still…) and apt. dwellers finally flee for a host of uncomfortable reasons.

        It’s a thought. The point being, don’t assume that your social agenda for spending the tax dollars I’ve paid the city is the same as mine.

        So: buy a couch (if you don’t already have one) unlock your doors and say hello to your new roomies.

        Kindly put YOUR money (& safety) where your mouth already is.

    15. Mike Dweck says:

      I cannot comment on the Belnord, but I live next to the Hotel Belleclaire and I have a dog so I constantly walk by the hotel. I have found most “temporary” residents are quite nice, but once night falls it gets really annoying. The mall on Broadway fills up and as the booze gets drank and the weed gets smoked generally from 5pm until the early morning hours the conversations inevitably turn into screaming arguments with vulgar language and always on the verge of physical confrontation. Not a single person is wearing a mask, and everyone is on top of each other. They still compliment my dog. Good thing it’s warm out because my kids can drown out the noise with the air conditioner. Not the best addition to the neighborhood especially since there is literally zero concern about COVID. Goodtimes.