Councilmember Helen Rosenthal sent out an email on Sunday shifting her stance on certain issues surrounding the new homeless shelters that have been placed in hotels on the Upper West Side in the past couple of months. She said she’s gotten hundreds of emails, tweets and calls about the shelters in the last two weeks.
For months, city officials have not even confirmed that there are hotels being used as shelters on the Upper West Side — West Side Rag broke the news that the Belleclaire and Belnord were being used as shelters after speaking to homeless residents and anonymous city officials and reviewing permits. The Department of Homeless Services would not even confirm the existence of the shelters.
But since The Lucerne on 79th Street was turned into a shelter late last month, the issue has become a political hot-button. Rosenthal ended up in a confrontation with residents about The Lucerne last month.
Rosenthal said she was unhappy with how the city has been communicating about this issue. But she said she is not opposed to further shelters being placed in the neighborhood, after saying earlier that “I have told City Hall that under no condition will we accept any more temporary shelters.”
And after saying she was “demanding that all remaining [sex] offenders be moved out,” Rosenthal amended that position as well.
Her full statement is below.
Over the past two weeks, my office has received hundreds of emails, phone calls, and tweets about people in our community who are homeless. Many residents are upset, angry, and fearful for themselves and their children. Some think that the UWS is deteriorating along with their property values. Some of you have reached out with deep compassion, unity, and a neighborly desire to do our part as the city faces the twin crises of the pandemic and homelessness. I am personally responding to as many of these communications as possible, and in particular, trying to address frightening rumors and other inaccurate information.
Many of the concerns we are hearing stem from the little notice given and few concrete answers regarding the placement of temporary shelters in Upper West Side hotels. The emergency shelter system is opaque and the City has made clear mistakes in its communication with neighborhoods and local officials. In response to our questions, the City sent this letter yesterday.
We are also hearing from many of you about serious street safety issues, such as drug overdoses. I discuss these issues regularly with the commanding officer of the 20th Precinct, Captain Zuber, and he is in ongoing communication with all of the shelter providers and street homeless outreach teams. Borough President Brewer, other local electeds, Community Board 7, and I are all working together to make sure the conditions we are seeing are addressed, and the City has just committed to meet with UWS community leaders on a regular basis.
I encourage you to engage with the 20th Precinct’s neighborhood policing program. Click here to learn about public meetings throughout the precinct this month. (A reminder from Captain Zuber: NYPD officers can only make arrests for illegal activity, such as the purchase or sale of drugs, if they see it themselves. The NYPD cannot use photos supplied by residents. Please call 911 to report a crime or emergency.)
I will continue to hold the City’s feet to the fire, to make sure they are doing everything possible to keep you safe and ensure that people who are homeless can stabilize their lives. My role is to push the City for answers and bring you transparency. By getting accurate answers to your questions, all of us can be guided by facts, rather than misconceptions and rumors.
It’s unfortunate that the Administration did not choose to include the UWS in its emergency shelter decisions and provide a reasonable amount of advance notice. The UWS is among the most compassionate neighborhoods in the city, and we could have played a more active and constructive role in determining how to provide for some of the city’s most vulnerable residents.
To be clear, some of the questions my office is receiving are not related to the shelters, but to the ongoing and unresolved homeless encampments in our district: along Broadway near 72nd, 79th, and 95th streets. With my full support, Goddard Riverside Homeless Outreach workers interact with these people regularly, trying to build their trust and bring them into shelter. Once in shelter, they can finally get help in addressing the issues that have kept them on the street: mental illness, addiction, and poverty.
We are in a difficult situation — as a city, and as a district. With evictions and unemployment at historic levels, an unprecedented number of our fellow New Yorkers will experience homelessness and entry into the shelter system– many for the first time. According to a recent analysis, landlords have obtained 14,000 eviction warrants, and when the courts fully open, an estimated 50,000 renters could face eviction in New York City alone.
I want to make my position very clear: housing is a human right, and access to social and human services is essential. While I understand the anger and fear of many constituents (exacerbated by the lack of information from the City) and was initially moved to respond in very stark terms, I regret stating that the Upper West Side would not accept any more people who are homeless. The Upper West Side is known as a place that welcomes those in need and I remain steadfast in that tradition. We are in the middle of a public health and economic crisis — this is our reality — and we will rise to the challenges it brings.
That being said, as a mother, a staunch feminist, and advocate for survivors– I will be hawkeyed about ensuring that laws regarding sex offenders’ residency, and proximity to schools and playgrounds, are being closely followed.
Please see our latest updates below about the three emergency shelters in District 6 hotels. (A fourth hotel, the Park West, is not in my Council District but in Community Board 7, and is also being used as a temporary shelter.) As you recall, these emergency placements are required by the Dept of Health to contain the spread of Covid. When the Department determines that it is safe for clients to return to their congregate shelters, they will do so. Each of the shelters has a different base of clients:
- The Belleclaire, with 288 clients, includes 100 women living there and about one-third of the clients go to work every day. Their focus is on job placement assistance.
- The Belnord, with about 100 male clients, specializes in mental health and crisis intervention programs.
- The Lucerne, with about 283 male clients, serves those with drug addictions and other mental health issues. The City has confirmed that there are no registered sex offenders at the Lucerne.Regarding registered sex offenders living at the Belleclaire:
- Those with residency restrictions (restricted by state law from living within a thousand feet of a school) have been moved out. The City made a mistake in placing any individuals with these restrictions at the Belleclaire. The Dept of Homeless Services (DHS) tells us that it was one individual.
- There are no residency restrictions on the remaining clients. We follow up with the DHS directly with our questions, as it is unclear how regularly the NYS sex offender registry is updated.
- Simply as a point of reference: There are over 1,600 NYS registered sex offenders in Manhattan (living in private residences, homeless shelters, etc.). Mental health professionals advise that sex offenders are less likely to repeat offend when they are in a stable living environment with access to services, rather than in a distressed condition, such as homelessness.
I know that each one of you wants clear answers and concrete next steps, and my office (and other elected officials) are doing everything we can to supply them. At the same time, we are continuing all our other work — assisting NYCHA residents with badly needed repairs; getting air conditioners to low income seniors; ensuring the delivery of meals to those in need; and addressing the increasing number of calls about evictions.
We are also closely following the City’s school opening plans. I am pushing very hard for the City to place a nurse in every school, as well as social workers to help children process the incredibly difficult situation we are all going through.
More likely than not, we will face additional revenue shortfalls in the coming months as well, and I will fight — as I always have — to make sure that the most vulnerable are protected.
Note: Because of the enormous number and length of comments received, we will be shutting down the comments section of this article at 5:30PM, to allow us to catch up. We approved many lengthy comments, because to exclude them seemed wrong. As much nastiness as possible was excluded, though some slipped through. There will be more opportunities to comment on this topic. Please be concise and civil.