By Carol Tannenhauser
Despite reassurances from politicians that there are no sex offenders at the three new homeless shelters on the Upper West Side, the city can’t bar all sex offenders from city shelters, according to Isaac McGinn, spokesperson for the Department of Homeless Services (DHS).
Only sex offenders deemed “residency restricted” can be banned from shelters that are less than 1,000 feet from schools or child-care facilities, McGinn explained. Gaining that designation depends on factors like the severity of the offense and the offender’s criminal justice status.
It appears that the city had to scramble to make sure no residency-restricted clients are living in the UWS hotels that have been converted into homeless shelters — the Hotel Belleclaire (77th & Broadway), the Belnord Hotel (87th & Broadway), and The Lucerne (79th & Amsterdam). One of the residents at the Belleclaire with a residency restricted sex offender status was just transferred away in recent days.
Hotel conversions such as these are going on throughout the five boroughs, in an effort to stem the spread of the coronavirus by emptying congregate (dormitory-style) shelters, which make social distancing impossible, into hotels with single and double rooms.
On Monday, 283 men from two congregate shelters on the Lower East Side were transferred to The Lucerne. City Councilmember Helen Rosenthal spoke outside the hotel with a contingent from the community and a WSR reporter. Rosenthal said she had spoken to a city commissioner earlier that morning, who had assured her that there would be no sex offenders living at this site.
But DHS says it can’t unilaterally bar all sex offenders from shelters.
In a follow-up email response to questions from the Rag, Helen Rosenthal’s communications director wrote that, “NYC Commissioner of Homeless Services, Steve Banks, has stated that no registered sex offenders will be allowed to live at the Lucerne.”
As far as the Belleclaire and the Belnord, she added, “all four level 3 offenders were transferred — three were moved several weeks ago; one was just moved.”
There are several other sex offenders listed as living at the Belleclaire, according to a state database that tracks their residences. Asked about the men in that database living at the Belleclaire, State Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal wrote in an email to the Rag that “DHS told me those remaining would be moved from the building by tonight. Unclear where they are going.”
Sex offenders who are not residency restricted can still live there, and at The Lucerne, according to DHS. In general, men who are not residency restricted have committed lower level offenses, and they are not on parole or probation.
“I’d also note that other than following State Law as relates to residency requirements, we of course have to follow the law on providing shelter to all who are experiencing homelessness, regardless of background (as you may know, we are under court order in New York to provide shelter to all those who need it),” McGinn noted. “It would be unlawful to discriminate against individuals based on their backgrounds or prior experiences.”