By Carol Tannenhauser
Out of the Facebook group “Upper West Siders for Safer Streets,” formed in late July to protest the transfer of more than 600 homeless people to hotels in the neighborhood, has come a not-for-profit group called West Side Community Organization (WSCO).
WSCO is a 501(c) 4, which means it is not for religious, charitable or educational purposes, but rather for social action, such as lobbying or political advocacy. Donations are not tax deductible.
That didn’t stop nearly 250 people from giving to the GoFundMe drive launched by WSCO on Tuesday. By Thursday afternoon, it had raised more than $50,000 — half its goal — and was rapidly ascending. The Facebook group said “100% of all donations will go toward the retaining of professionals in the fields of communications, government relations and law.”
The Facebook group has quickly energized thousands of people, who have posted photographs of men around The Lucerne Hotel on 79th Street, which became a homeless shelter in late July, and strategized over issues like media coverage and political organizing.
One mission of the new nonprofit is “to advance safer and more compassionate policies regarding New Yorkers who are struggling with homelessness, mental illness, and drug addiction,” according to the group’s website. Some critics of the Facebook group, however, have said that people in the group have posted alarmist commentary and images of people experiencing homelessness, without showing compassion for their situation. Upper West Side resident Cecily Keating says the group’s rhetoric demonizes the homeless rather than helps them. “I live near The Lucerne and have had zero problems,” she said.
It appears that the group has already found their lawyer, according to the New York Post.
A newly formed Upper West Side residents’ group is bringing in the big guns — hiring a high-profile lawyer to get City Hall to do something about the troubling influx of homeless in their neighborhood.
The West Side Community Organization says it has put in hundreds of 311 calls to the city but has gotten no action, as vagrants placed in local hotels and shelters roam the streets, relieving themselves in public, picking through trash cans, and ignoring coronavirus safety measures.
So they sought help from attorney Randy Mastro, listed this year as one of the top 100 most politically powerful lawyers by City & State magazine.
“What the (Mayor Bill) de Blasio administration has done here shocks the conscience and has to be stopped,” Mastro, a former federal prosecutor and onetime Big Apple deputy mayor, told The Post Wednesday.
Mastro is the same lawyer hired by the “58th Street Coalition” to fight the city’s plan to turn the old Park Savoy Hotel between 6th and 7th Avenues into a men’s homeless shelter. The Post wrote in a different story, “A group of wealthy residents has hired former Giuliani deputy mayor Randy Mastro to lead its battle against Mayor de Blasio’s plan to plop a homeless shelter on ritzy “Billionaires Row.”
“We are committed to preserving the qualities that make the Upper West Side a great place to live, work, raise a family and enjoy retirement,” wrote WSCO, in its GoFundMe plea. “We refuse to accept that nothing can be done to solve these issues…We must protect our children, while at the same time demand that the city provide real services to these struggling individuals. The current situation is not only unacceptable, it is inhumane.”