1,100 Participate in CB7 Zoom Meeting About ‘Homeless Hotels’

A screenshot of the Zoom meeting on Monday night.

By Carol Tannenhauser

”I’ll keep it short,” said most of the speakers at Monday night’s Zoom meeting about the private hotels in the neighborhood that have been converted to temporary homeless shelters, but no one did.

A record-breaking 1,100 participants attended the virtual meeting, including community residents; panelists from the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) and the nonprofits contracted to run the Belleclaire, Belnord and Lucerne hotels/shelters; board members, a police commander, a rabbi’s representative, an educator, and numerous elected officials. Questions from the community were pre-submitted. Board Chair Mark Diller juggled the entire thing, keeping the meeting moving and on-topic.

Steven Banks, commissioner of the NYC Human Resources Administration (HRA), which oversees DHS, was not present. Deputy Commissioner Erin Drinkwater stepped in to describe the rationale for the transfers — “the de-densification of the shelter system,” she called it — but it was the lack of notice to the community and adequate supervision of the shelters that was widely decried. This virtual meeting was intended to provide more information and clarification.

The directors of the nonprofits running the hotels — Eric Rosenbaum of Project Renewal (Lucerne), Daniel Farrell of HELP USA (Belleclaire), and Tony Hannigan of CUCS (Belnord) — each made presentations.

The Lucerne is under scaffolding.

“We had about two weeks’ notice to open the shelter in The Lucerne,” said Rosenbaum. “Of course it hasn’t been perfect; this was a public health emergency. The Lucerne has calmed down enormously in the four weeks since we opened, in part because we’ve made changes based on your feedback. For instance, the precinct now has a patrol car stationed at the Lucerne most evenings. And we’ve transferred 18 clients back to congregate shelter for failure to respect our good neighbor policy.”

Dale Brown, president of the West 79th Street Block Association, backed up Rosenbaum’s assertions about a general improvement in the situation recently. “The first three weeks were truly a nightmare,” she said. “But things seem to be getting better. Project Renewal now sends out more security guards. Programs are being held. We are seeing less wandering men around the neighborhood.”

Perhaps the most urgent community concerns were raised in the last two questions of the two-and-a-half-hour evening, by Board Member Jay Adolf.

“Can you give us a projected timeline as to when the pandemic-motivated moves will be undone?” Adolf asked. “And, yes or no, does this administration have any intent to make any of these hotels permanent housing for the homeless?”

“On your first question, I cannot give you a date, sir,” Drinkwater responded. “What I can commit to is regular communication with this community. As for whether the city has any plans to make these hotels permanent housing, not at this time,” Drinkwater said. “That is my yes or no answer.”

If you’re interested in helping out the men in the shelters, Daniel Farrell of HELP USA said, “We need business attire, and more access to employment opportunities. Our goal is to help them move to permanent housing, and jobs are key. 35% of the men and women in the Belleclaire are employed,” he added.

Watch the full meeting below:

NEWS | 53 comments | permalink
    1. Sherm says:

      What a slap in the face to the average law abiding citizen. I did not watch the entire zoom, but I found the condescending, holier than thou tone of many of the presenters offensive. They faced few tough questions and received almost zero pushback when they read prepared scripts rather than provide any substantive answers.
      Telling people they can call 911 if they feel under attack (after suggesting most concerns were unwarranted and due to “misinformation”) was not helpful and insulting.
      Congratulating and thanking all of the “public servants” and well compensated “charitable” service providers for spending so much of their valuable time to address our concerns got on my nerves after a while. They only agreed to this meaningless to do some PR/damage control not because anyone of them cared or intends to address resident concerns.

      • Bianca says:

        Who exactly is the “average law abiding citizen?” Unless these homeless people have broken more laws than you, they are just like you. This is not the time to worry about what “gets on your nerves,” Sir. With respect, we are in the midst of a national health & economic emergency. Be thankful you have a home and enough time in your life to be outraged about this, of all things.

        • Bruce Bernstein says:

          reply to Bianca:


          I guess to be an “average law abiding citizen” you have to not be homeless or at risk of homelessness (how many hundreds of thousands in NYC are currently at risk of honelessness?), at least in Sherman’s mind.

          “There but for the grace of God go I.”

          • barmellier says:

            Logistically, there are many other hotels where these homeless(and some very dangerous)people could be housed. There are just as many vacant hotels lacking guests in very near proximity to the airports. There doesn’t seem to be a need to have these people, urinating, shooting up, aggressively panhandling, and behaving menacingly while I am taking my kid to the playground or school. Have enough of that as it is with our “resident” homeless population.

        • Burtnor says:

          Thank you!

    2. NotToday222 says:

      Sad that many in the community are not welcoming those who are less fortunate. We need to help them.

      However, I was surprised with the lack of transparency from DHS. Gov. Cuomo has made it clear there are data points behind COVID-related government changes. For example, schools can only open if the 14-day average daily infection rate remains below 5%. I’m sure the city has its own data.

      Why can’t DHS provide the data they use to make their decisions? This could calm many allow DHS and community activists to focus on the important work.

      • Dave says:

        If DHS/the government had any data that would show this move was warranted they would be shouting it from the roof tops.
        These same folks clearly stated their intent would be to buy these hotels and use them as permanent housing, which when viewed objectively is completely irrational and exposes their true intent/goals.
        The current published infection rate in NYC is very low. They only moved these people to hotels after the height of covid.
        Nobody is against helping the less fortunate, there are just different viewpoints on the most effective way to accomplish it. People with substance abuse problems need to be in rehab, not housed in a hotel with almost zero supervision across the street from a liquor store and in an area with many children and elderly residents.

        • Tipping Point says:

          DHS’s Erin Drinkwater used the smokescreen of Covid-19 last night to cover up the fact that many (most?) of the men in the Lucerne were not moved from a congregant shelter to reduce the risk of transmission, but were moved from another hotel, Washington-Jefferson in Hell’s Kitchen where there was significant trouble with the community given the large number of mentally ill chemical abusers.

          Act one: Speaker Corey Johnston called on the mayor to fix the issue in his district in July. Act two: the residents are moved from his district to that of Helen Rosenthal on July 27. I’ll let guess why.

          • Shelle says:

            Thank you for pointing this out.

            I also find it interesting that those moved returned to congregate shelters? Is DHS no longer concerned abt Covid spread in congregate shelters? Or is the hotel experience a carrot to encourage them to follow rules?

            Is it a privilege or due to the health emergency?

          • Ian Alterman says:

            That, sir or madam, is flat-out wrong. The men at the Lucerne were moved from two shelters operated by Project Renewal on the Lower East Side. I do not know where you get your information, but it is faulty.

    3. UWSider says:

      The Zoom meeting was not a discussion at all. The majority of the 1st hour was members from different homeless service providers patting themselves on the back for a job well done. They ran into the last 15 minutes to address questions from the community. The take away for me was, Hey we made this decision for you, they now live here, now it’s your job to ask your self “What can I do to assist these individuals?”. It’s now up to UWS residents to do all they can to help these individuals.
      Very disappointed in the little input the community had . . . AGAIN! Presentation (not discussion) bulldozed over the voices of concerned residents.

      • One Sided PR stunt says:

        Completely agree with you. This was a complete waste of time, with little air time to answer questions and address opposing views.

      • Bianca says:

        Why not do what we can for this new addition to the community? Did UWS residents protest this much when banks & chain stores moved into their space aggressively, closing down small businesses? Or when developers and our local political organized crime made it impossible for anyone not from money to ever dream of buying or even renting here? I don’t remember anyone crying about how they ruined the neighbourhood.

        • davidaron60 says:

          Exactly, Bianca. I also posted this fact, though worded differently, in the chat during this Zoom and a few participants viewing this meeting even agreed. Let’s do what we can to help while we have the opportunity to do so.

        • Shelle says:

          The issue I have is the increase in crime. It is sad that it coincided with their arrival, whether they are the ones doing it or not. Are we to accept a variety of crime because these people have been moved into the neighborhood? Laws matter regardless your economic situation.

    4. Phlim Phlam says:

      ‘Not at this time,” Drinkwater said. “That is my yes or no answer.”

      Translation: Yes, if and when we feel we need to, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

    5. Be my guest.... says:

      This is wonderful that the community has come together. Back in the 1960s and 1970s we didn’t have a community nor do we have homeless shelters and hotels. The homeless people were living on the streets and on the benches here on the Upper West Side… It took a little while to change and Gale A. Brewer was living here too and she knows what we had to go through to change the situation to a better upper Westside for you people to enjoy. It took forever to get people to get to move here. Well, I’ve done it back then and now…..The new generation can handle it from here. It’s a challenging job.

    6. Francesca says:

      The majority of residents who attended heard a lot about speakers’ commitments to troubled homeless men, and virtually nothing about commitments to the health and safety of established residents. Put another way, despite having some 1,000 in attendance and 12,000 members, we were barely acknowledged. Bureaucracy and not democracy at work! Still, we will try to create a dialogue. This meeting was mainly a bunch of self-praising monologues.

    7. SD says:

      In the future, they should send out the prepared speeches & talking points prior to the start of the meeting. It was a waste of time & v disrespectful to the community who attended to go on for 2 hours before addressing questions.

      Additionally- they should share the email info for those presenting at the meeting, so we can know exactly who & who not to support with our $$$, time & votes.

    8. Michael says:

      These people don’t need clothes and a job, most of them need a drug rehab program and mental health support. It is shocking that in 2020 we still refuse to acknowledge the real issues causing homelessness and are unwilling to treat them and just pretend to shuttle these people around at the sake of tax payer money and self-interests of bureaucracy.

      • Bruce Bernstein says:

        reply to Michael:

        not all homeless have “mental health issues”, although in some cases it is the cause of homelessness. However, there’s nothing like homelessness to GIVE someone mental health issues!

        And there are plenty of people with “mental health issues” and even in various types of rehab who are working, even at high paying jobs. You don’t think a job is key for many (not all) of the homeless? Also, many of the homeless ARE working and don’t have mental health issues. Something like 25% have full time work. Many working single mothers are in the shelter system.

        • Da Homeless Hero says:

          Mental health “issues” as we say, has a negative stigma and it shouldn’t. A person experiencing stress, trauma, anxiety, etc., may be in need of professional help that would allow them (me) to navigate such things in a healthy way. For many, experiencing homelessness, especially during this pandemic, is very traumatic. With treatment we are able to cope in a positive way. Without treatment some of us resort to a substance that may not be good for us. There are different levels to our mental stability but some of us need a higher level of care.

          • Bruce Bernstein says:

            reply to DHH:

            well said. and aren’t most of us somewhere on that spectrum?

            what homelessness does to one’s psyche seems almost unimaginable.

            this is a chance for West Siders to speak out against all sorts of stigmas. Let’s learn together from this experience, not “react” in a knee jerk way.

            • da homeless hero says:

              Yes indeed and by discussing these issues collectively we can find real solutions that will bring about change for the better. I believe, that despite differences of opinions a collective conversation that is positive and respectful to everyone will do more good than feeding into and exploiting negative hysteria. Thanks as always for adding a proactive voice to these discussions

          • Michael says:

            This is not an issue of homelessness causing mental illness or substance abuse. This is an issue of the substance abuse and unaddressed mental illness leading to homelessness. You are so naive. These people don’t need shelters to help they need professional help. It is inhumane to not provide them the help they need. It doesn’t matter what neighborhood you put them in if you don’t address the real problem. No one would have an issue with them staying where they are if the city and all of these wonderful “humane” politicians actually helped these people get what they need.

            • Bruce Bernstein says:

              reply to Michael:

              it seems like you agree with Gale Brewer. I suggest you read her letter, signed by the other elected officials, which highlights improved homeless services in the Lucerne and other hotels.

    9. UWS resident says:

      After hrs of “spin” & goobleygook !! The costs at these hotels was not addressed and some of those charitable groups asked for donations. I support & donate to many BUT when our tax dollars are used ($200/per person/night) I resent the wasteful spending by the city.

      $6000/month plus security, meals, and admin is simply irresponsible use of our taxes.

      For that, we should be able to get these “clients” -as DHS refers to them, permanent housing, treatment & job training.

      • Da Homeless Hero says:

        With all that money they could buy buildings, provide REAL services and train their staff to be able to deal with those of us suffering from substance use disorder and mental illness. The wasteful money further perpetuates a cycle of dependence, substance use, mental illness, depression and homelessness. Trust me, I know.

    10. Cordcutter says:

      Don’t think I’ve ever seen that many attendees, ever. That says a lot!
      Agreed, too much time being spent on the events leading up to and little to no time on what will be done to ease our concerns. Felt like it was a long drawn out list of dates that helped them feel better about all of the people they spoke to, to move people to the residences – except the neighborhood itself.

      The hotspots come to us to remain just that, with yet another assault again today at Ams/79 this afternoon.

      And they said they have everyone on watch and they’re communicating staff and residents in the hotels. OK

    11. esuk419 says:

      Not one f#@king question was answered. And they bs’d for about 3/4 of the time leaving no time for questions. What a waste of tax payer dollars who employ these liars.

    12. Ken says:

      My takeaway from the meeting was that the DHS and the service providers are doing a magnificent job in the face of a health emergency. Perhaps more advance notice was possible, but what would that have changed? Maybe DHS is as surprised as I am at the fear-filled backlash in this reputedly progressive neighborhood. And about demanding a “timeline”: You may as well ask when the pandemic will end.

      • Jay Adolf says:

        Of course no one can predict the pandemic’s end. But the City is in Phase 4 based on certain benchmarks. With the infection rate below 1% and testing readily available it’s not at all unreasonable to set a schedule for returning to shelters. The community isn’t seeking unreasonable answers, just honest answers.

    13. Beth says:

      I wonder where neighborhood in the nineties is in this discussion.

      • TrueTrue says:

        Their president retired last September and I’m not sure the organization has been active since (there is no further update to the website since 9/9/2019).

    14. Da Homeless Hero says:

      I’m dismayed at the fact that none of us who are homeless has been allowed to be a part of any discussion as though we’re “invisible people” only to be exploited by an inconsiderate media. I’ll always find a way to speak out, but many are traumatized at the negative characterizations since being brought to the UWS. Decisions are made without taking into account how they would negatively impact us. The negative things you see are perpetuated by a system that continues to fail us. Please let us have a seat at the table and a voice in the conversation.

      • Erica says:

        Agreed! And I’m ashamed of my neighbors for the way they’ve treated you. You absolutely should have been able to speak last night. But honestly, it was a complete waste of time as it stood.

      • Erika Blumberg says:

        I’ve read about you and I’m happy to see you contributing here. I wondered the same – I wasn’t at the Zoom, but it seems like a lot of people talking ABOUT folks without homes and I wonder how many of them have ever talked WITH folks without homes.

      • Sammy says:

        Da Homeless Hero! I just want you to know I’ve been so disgusted by how the media (NY Post) has exploited you guys. They’ve posted horrible pictures of men clearly not well. Taking a picture of someone clearly at rock bottom and then splashing it all over the paper? It’s disgusting. They painted a broad brush that everyone at the hotel is shooting up needles and peeing on the street. While there are many like you trying to fix your life. And these outlets don’t care about you or anyone. They are trying to exploit this and use it towards their agenda. I’ve said this before on here. I have no problem with the hotels being used. I’m only disappointed that some of these men seem to have just been dropped off at the hotel & then provided no services bc clearly some need help. I’m hoping they get it. Hope you are doing well! Keep fighting! I know you are dealing with obstacles! Rooting for you!

    15. Kattleya Bourdeleau says:

      Forcing participants to download the ZOOM app in order to participate in this meeting is a violation of my privacy. These meetings should also be available via teleconference with no third-party app required.

    16. Tan man says:

      An interesting article. Pointing out how people are not doing enough to help out individuals who are less fortunate. Then all they did was waste people’s time. They pretend to be an upstanding, good or “Christian”, while in the background they do what ever they feel like doing. Hearing that long meeting that didn’t go anywhere must have felt like a scam. A 270$ scam. What a shame. Why would they do that.

    17. chris says:

      We entered questions regarding the COST of housing these people at the Lucerne and other uws hotels and none were addressed during the zoom meeting. In fact, I do not see any news articles where there have been answers about the pricing. So conservatively estimating 500 people x $200 is $100,000 a night and $3 MILLION a month. Three million a month of our taxpayer dollars going just to hotels owned by a big diblahsio donors. That is a lot of money not going to treatment.

    18. UWS Lover says:

      Erin Drinkwater tweeted out yesterday (or maybe the day before), Comfort the Afflicted, Afflict the Comfortable. Great attitude for a public servant! What an insult to the hardworking residents of our community to wish harm on them! She should resign or be terminated

    19. V Iskal says:

      I attended……and these people were moved in – in May, June and July, after the mega surge of covid19 was over, and we were on the downside of the curve

      • Dr. Morris Baer says:

        The only answer that I got sitting through this poorly planned and run panel discussion was to vote Helen Rosenthal, Gale Brewer, De Blasio and Cuomo out of office.

        • Margaret says:

          Totally agree. Clear that Rosenthal will not do anything. She just gave us a lecture about the problems of the homeless.

    20. Newcavendish says:

      I am very glad to see that the city and the organizers of the shelter have recognized that the “good neighbor policy” is a two-way street; the neighborhood is asked to accept the residents of the shelter, in addition (of course) to paying for their upkeep via taxes; the other side of the coin is that the city and the non-profit and the guests themselves have a duty to make sure their deportment is appropriate to the neighborhood (as it often has not been). We have a civic and often religious duty to do what can be done for these people (and it’s important to support the hotel as well, for a hoped-for future); but this is only possible in the long run if their conduct is appropriate.

    21. Harold A Maio says:

      —–Mental health “issues” as we say, has a negative stigma

      That is one view, here is another:

      —–Mental health “issues” we are taught to say, has a negative stigma.

    22. Elder says:

      Since there is an election coming up , I feel it would be helpful to hear what our representatives feel about this issue short term and long term.
      I need to know where they stand and certainly don’t have any clear notion where they do. Need some straight answers no matter what their opinions are so I can vote accordingly.
      This whole thing has actually helped to focus on many issues. One important one is if the people I vote for reflect my sentiments and will represent me accordingly.

      • Senior says:

        I also attended the meeting. Yes, it’s nice to discuss how to help the over 700 members that are now in the community. I am mental health professional and know that changing zip codes is no answer to to help the homeless. It might make us feel good that we’ve helped but it’s like spit in the ocean. Many of these people need residential treatment centers, etc. Again, over 700 people requiring tremendous support.
        Many who have been feeling unsafe and fearful were not giving a voice. There is still episodes of panhandling, lewdness, drugs and drunkiness still going on. An episode today 79th & Amsterdam. Parents are worried about their children returning to school. Personal choice but I don’t go out alone at night. It is sad that we are almost becoming numb to this too.

    23. Maxine Spector says:

      I attended about one hour of the meeting. Here are some takeaways for me. Whatever stage of the infection in NYC, the very densely populated homeless shelters were a prescription for catastrophe and widespread infection. To move people into individual rooms (or with their families) so that they could isolate made total sense. Also, these hotel rooms were empty and the groups negotiated with the hotel association. Apparently, the shelters that were moved to two of the hotels were in the community already, so the people were in the community anyway. However, the third hotel was populated by shelters outside of the community. This practice of relocation from outside was stopped due to public outrage. Gayle Brewer appropriately complained about the lack of warning and communication with the community before it was done. Many of the people now in the hotels are people that work, and apparently the infection rate in the original shelters and in the hotels are low, which is great. I didn’t find the speakers to be arrogant. I do understand the anxiety of the UWS community under the pandemic and with services declining. Everyone’s nerves are frayed.

    24. Alex says:

      this was a primer on how to waste over 2 hours congratulating yourself for an “incredible” job well done. just pathetic.