City May Face Dueling Lawsuits, as Shelter Opponents and Legal Aid Both Threaten Action

The Lucerne Hotel is being used as a homeless shelter. Photo by Steven Bergman.

The fight over the Upper West Side’s homeless hotels may end up in the courts, as an opposition group has demanded the mayor produce a timeline for removing the shelters, according to NY1.

And The Legal Aid Society, the law firm for low-income families and individuals, says they’ll sue too if the city forces the homeless out of the hotels before it’s safe to do so.

The West Side Community Organization, a nonprofit that grew out of a Facebook group that opposes the shelter, has raised more than $100,000 and hired lawyer Randy Mastro, a former top official in the Giuliani administration.

The former deputy mayor under Rudy Giuliani sent a letter to the mayor this week demanding a timeline for moving people out. He demanded that timeline be given by Friday, or the group would sue.

“So we’re saying to the mayor, fine you have acknowledged that this is not the solution, that circumstances have changed and there should an immediate change to move this vulnerable population out of SRO hotels where they are not getting the services they need. Mayor tell us when you are going to do that,” Mastro said. “Do it now!”

Legal Aid, however, says the city needs to keep homeless people in the hotels if it’s keeping them safe. Officials from the Department of Homeless Services say moving homeless people from close-packed shelters to hotels has saved lives during the Covid crisis.

“If the mayor caves to the racist NIMBYism from some residents of the UWS and forces vulnerable NYers from their hotel rooms back to congregate shelters before it is safe to do so, we will see him in court,” Legal Aid said on Twitter.

NEWS | 56 comments | permalink
    1. Ken says:

      Good to see Giuliani aides weighing in just in case anyone needs any help figuring out who the assholes are here.

      • UWSHebrew says:

        Don’t know about his aides, but Giuliani was a great mayor, including before 9/11. This dump of a city completely turned around under his leadership. Don’t bother with your protestations of some of his so called racist policies, as he saved thousands of black lives with them. Now under your progressive dream of a mayor, the vast majority of murder victims are black. So, keep up the name calling and hate, but in the end, the families of those who are now in the ground before their time may think different than you.

        • UWSdr says:

          One legitimate issue with both Giuliani and Bloomberg is that the atop and frisk policy was unconstitutional as determined by the courts.

          • Cato says:

            ‘…[s]top and frisk policy was unconstitutional as determined by the courts.”

            Actually, no. Not as “determined by the courts”, but as determined by one judge — who was then removed from the case because the appellate court found she was prejudiced.

            Then, before the matter could be re-heard before a *neutral* judge, DeBlasio took over as mayor and on his own dropped the stop-[question]-and-frisk policy, mooting the case.

            The policy was thus never ruled on by a neutral judge, let alone “the courts”.

            • UWSdr says:

              There was way more litigation around this than you indicate and I was using ‘the courts’ as shorthand. My point is that it is legitimate to criticize both of these mayors for this policy.

        • Elyse says:

          Dear Upper West Side Hebrew: It would be great if you actually say who and what you believe in, rather than make factual determinations that are matters of opinion. I totally disagree with you about Giuliani as he made his point through intimidation. To wit, he demanded the removal of art work because he didn’t approve of it. So, I have seen your posts for a long time, and sadly, they always attack others who don’t agree with you. This is disrespectful, in my opinion. And it is hard to know what you stand for, actually. So why don’t you say so? Thanks.

          • UWSHebrew says:

            “To wit, he demanded the removal of art work because he didn’t approve of it” — the ONE piece art work you are referring is a depiction of The Virgin Mary with elephant feces and pornographic imagery. Would you be equally incensed if the depiction was an image sacred to the religion of Islam, and Giuliani would have made the same demands? Of course not, and the reasons for it can go unsaid. As for your reprimands regarding my behavior, I’ve considered them carefully and condensed my answer down to this: “NO”.

    2. Jane says:

      Being a “racist NIMBY” = not wanting to be assaulted, screamed at, see drug use, step over passed out people, see open masturbation, see open defecation on the street, and pass by unsanitary encampments and mountains of garbage.

      It’s scary how they’ve turned this into a race issue. If all 500 of these men were lily-white and exhibiting the same behavior, the community response would literally be no different. It’s not a race issue.

      (I’m curious if West Side Rag will publish this comment.)

      • Chase says:


        • Jane says:

          Who cares? We don’t live in a theocracy.

          A compassionate government might provide mental health services, including institutionalization, and rehab. Not just dumping hundreds of homeless addicts in a neighborhood where they will never get on their feet.

      • Barbara says:

        I completely agree.
        The photos tell the story. Numerous drug deals, no masks, increased garbage in the street,using the streets as a toilet.,yelling obscenities.
        School starts soon and children will witness this disgusting behavior.

        • CGK says:

          “The photos”? Does that mean you haven’t actually witnessed this yourself?

          Because I live very near the Lucerne. I am on that corner multiple times a day. And have witnessed NONE of that.

          The neighborhood is just as safe as it’s always been. The “safety” concerns that the opponents of the temporary hotel housing cite are bogus.

      • Leon says:

        Totally agree. Once they include the word “racist” they lose all legitimacy with me. To quote Dr. King, I judge people based on the content of their character, not the color of their skin. And when someone is behaving in a way that is breaking the law, they should be arrested. Regardless of their race.

        That said, I think I am among the vast group of centrists who don’t necessarily want all of the homeless shelters gone, but just want the law enforced and have those who are breaking the law and/or not operating within the spirit of the shelters to be removed. If the hotels were filled with homeless people who were obeying the law and trying to get back on their feet, many of us would not have a problem.

      • Doe says:

        I have so thought this. It’s the behavior, not race. My first reaction was to drug and instability issues. I would care just as much if the tenants all looked like my own son–who had his own like difficulties, so I knew what comes of a massive influx.

    3. CrankyPants says:

      Thank you, Mr Mastro! Keep up the good work. What is happening around here is beyond the pale.

      • Dave K. says:

        This is in no way a race issue. It is simply a safety issue, and the need to protect our children. I am not even sure why the “race” issue came up? What is that?

      • Joe says:

        Thank you, Legal Aid! Keep up the good work. What is happening around here is beyond the pale.

    4. 50 years in the west nineties says:

      As someone who grew up
      On the UWS in the 60s and 70s I want to remind everyone that seeing homeless people and drunks on broadway is not the end of the world. That was the life and we got used to it . We felt sorry for people who were struggling on the streets but we knew they had every right to be here. ‘The walking wounded’ our friend studs Terkel called them once at lunch with us.

    5. chris says:

      slapping the label “Racist” on something when it is not really diminishes the word. A lot of the drunk, passed out, publically j*rking off people were not of color at all. And the level 3 pedophile listed as still being at the bellclaire according to the govt website appears to be caucasian too. so shut up about racist. you just guaranteed no more donations from this household.

    6. UWSider says:

      Stop with the “racism” card! My God, everything is not racist. There are individuals of all colors in these hotels. It is not at all about race. This is just the “go to” nowadays. Have a problem? You’re a racist. Speak up about community concerns? You’re a racist. Worried about crime in your neighborhood? You must be racist. It’s getting old.

    7. Annie says:

      Simple solution: provide supervision for the individuals in the hotels. Give drug tests. Those who cannot comply with mask wearing/social distancing/curfews and those who engage in antisocial behavior ought to be sent to a less densely populated neighbor or to a shelter where they can receive the necessary services. Move in homeless women/children escaping abuse or individuals who have lost their homes recently due to financial strains. Women, seniors and children in the community would feel safe, complains would stop, more people would be helped, and it would finally become clear this is not an issue of race.

      • Michael says:

        Most constructive comment of the month! Provide the help these people need, just giving them housing solves nothing. Regardless of causality, many need help with drug dependency and psychological.

      • Lisa says:

        Anne, NYC will provide shelter to anyone who asks for it, regardless of how drunk or drug-addled they may be. So there is no requirement for any of these hotel residents with substance abuse issues to seek treatment.

        • Annie says:

          Lisa, I did not once suggest that the city should not house mentally ill and/or addicted homeless individuals. These are unprecedented times—yes—but it would be naive to think that those severely mentally ill/addicted residents of the hotels will abide to basic social distance and mask wearing protocols if Covid numbers were to spike again. If the city is unable to supervise, then those individuals with antisocial inclinations should ideally be housed in a less densely populated community. This is particularly taking under consideration the well-being of the rule abiding residents of the hotels.

        • CGK says:

          The Lucerne, specifically, is for recovering addicts in treatment programs. ( I live near that so have followed it most closely).

          Yes, the city must house all homeless. That does not mean that the hotels in the UWS have randomly selected residents.

      • Da Homeless Hero says:

        Annie you are absolutely right. There are people who need a higher level of care and they should be placed somewhere where they could get proper treatment and supervision. A cluster of people suffering from substance use disorder, mental health issues without proper treatment makes no sense. In any community.

    8. Lifer says:

      For all those claiming this isn’t about race – well, it sure as hell is about class. This is a neighborhood, not a gated community. UWS is a mixed-income neighborhood and has been this way for my entire life. For those who moved here during the Gilded Years – this is what social services look like. These people deserve to be housed. The safety concerns are COMPLETELY overblown & being hyped to panic levels that completely belie what the day-to-day is like on Broadway and Amsterdam. Would you prefer these folks be crammed back into crowded shelters and catch/spread Covid-19? Do you really not remember what this Spring was like, or were you too busy sheltering somewhere over a bridge or through a tunnel?

      • lynn says:

        Being ‘housed’ is not the same as being cared for. There are several people being ‘housed’ with serious mental and drug addiction and alcohol issues who are out on the street every day. Where is the counseling and oversight for those whom we were told were recovering addicts? Why are they allowed to buy drugs, shoot up, and then pass out on the street? Just for the record, all of the men at the homeless encampments on 72nd are white, as are their drug dealers, so please stop with the race baiting (everyone).

      • Chill y'all says:

        I Agree. I keep walking by these hotels, looking for the supposed YELLING and AGGRESSION and PEEING/JERKING OFF ON EVERYTHING. Have yet to spot any of the above.

        I’m not claiming that our streets are squeaky clean, walked only by angels…but that was never the case.

      • Flo says:

        Crowded shelters are not the only alternative to an UWS hotel. These people can be housed in smaller groups in motels in the boroughs.

      • CGK says:

        AMEN, Lifer.

        Thank you. The fact that certain people here are opposed to a program that is about SAVING LIVES in a pandemic is really appalling.

      • cc says:

        The safety concerns are not ‘completely over blown’. The UWS has decayed noticeably in recent years, but more worrisome is the random and sometimes violent behavior of drug addict and drunks. Last Winter, upon leaving the Philharmonic and heading for the underground subway, I got hit terribly hard in the shoulder by a drunk who came out of of nowhere. It not only took my breathe away but was painful for several days afterwards. If I was a kid, perhaps I would have blown it off, but I am in my 60’s and I do worry about being knocked to the ground. Safety is very much a concern.

    9. Ben David says:

      3…2..1…racist! That is the response that shuts off all dissent.
      Yes, not wanting to live next to people who urinate in the street, masturbate in front of schoolchildren, and smoke crack, is because of skin color. Shame on the Legal Aid Society for stoking hate and endorsing violence in our streets.

      • Ken says:

        Is that jealousy I detect, Ben? You don’t have to be homeless to smoke crack, pee in the street and masturbate in front of kids, you know. I suspect you could even do it as a pampered jerk who thinks your zip code entitles you to pretend homelessness doesn’t exist. I believe in you, Ben!

    10. Julia says:

      I think that this has an underlying racist concern, though it is not just that. I don’t think there would be so much upset if there were not a lot of black men in the hotels. And I do think th eoccupants’ safety from Covid comes first. I too have lived on the UWS since the early 70’s and remember the days when it was all like this.

      • stu says:

        You are so wrong about that. This is about people not wanting to be around mentally disturbed and drug-addicted homeless people. Period.

    11. TheUWSer says:

      I have a solution to this: the homeless should be housed at 200 Amsterdam Ave before it’s decapitated.

    12. ST says:

      The UWS is host to at least 25 supportive housing facilities. Three more hotels was too much to ask. They haven’t even started construction on the one on W 108 yet. (The one CB7 ignored the community on, just as it always does). The “public meeting” on the matter was a travesty.

    13. Mark Moore says:

      Sounds like a future failed lawsuit if it’s ever filed. The decision to move people to those hotels was not arbitrary or capricious. There was a clear and specific reason for it, even if some in the neighborhood disagree.

      • UWSHebrew says:

        Not only will the lawsuit fail, the homeless will be at the hotels until there is a vaccine. So buckle up complainers; either learn to deal with it (as I am), or leave (not being nasty, just laying it out there). You should realize by now that DeBlasio is not swayed by shame or criticism. He does what he wants (ask his former staff), and there is no negotiating.

    14. ProtestLucerneSaturday says:

      I want to make all residents of this neighborhood aware of the following. This Saturday night the 29th a group called The All Street Journal will be staging a protest in front of The Lucerne Hotel. This group is doing this under the guise of “an art project”. Nothing could be further from the truth. I just looked at their Instagram & quoted under the announcement of this “art event” is a direct quote from this group. It states: “Housing justice is racial justice”. Our concerns have NOTHING to do with race & EVERYTHING to do with safety. This group is inciting & escalating more problems by turning this into a race issue as opposed to a safety issue. This group is coming with an agenda that is not in the best interest of our community.

      • Mark Moore says:

        So? You’re concerned that they’re rallying in support of temporarily housing homeless people there during the pandemic?? The homeless people have already been moved there and at some point they’ll be returned to where they came from. Nothing that group does will change anything.

      • CGK says:

        “under the guise” ?! Why would you assume it is anything other than what it says?

        Not everybody in the neighborhood is into demonizing the residents of the hotels. Many residents are appalled by the hostility and hatred and overheated rhetoric from the hotel opponents. I know I am.

    15. Leon says:

      I would like to see the law making NYC responsible for all homeless people changed. The city seems to be a beacon calling out to homeless people, many of whom have no ties to the area. This should not solely be our burden. I’m sure there are plenty of hotels upstate that would love to have this business, and social workers there who could help.

      And for many with severe drug problems, getting them away from NYC, where they likely have easier access to drugs, would be the best solution to their problems. Because I thought the purpose of this was to help them get better, not just warehouse them while drugs continue to ruin their lives.

    16. Concerted Resident says:

      If you believe that this is a problem, join the “Upper West Siders for Safer Street” Facebook group ( and fight the incompetent and corrupt NYC officials dumping mentally ill people in the neighborhood. 12K people joined already.

    17. Sherm says:

      There is nothing worse than people who demonize others. Someone has a position you don’t like? Demonize them. Someone scared for their safety? Shame them. Just call them “racist”, “shameful”, etc. Look at all the posts here. All the good people defending themselves against ridiculous accusations even from the Legal Aid Society! You can’t even have a discussion anymore. There is no longer any such thing as a different perspective or point of view. What is going on is literally unbelievable.

    18. Jane says:

      I thought this would be about lawsuits regarding duelling. Isn’t duelling already illegal in NYC?

    19. jlie says:

      Why aren’t these people being housed in institutions where they can be helped? Living In hotels? What’s that about!? A temporary place to stay? And how much is that costing taxpayers? A whole lot more that providing a serious place for people with mental or drug issues to get better.

    20. RWC says:

      They are a racist group taking a strong hold on the upper West side, this is a nightmare and the fact that they feel emboldened to behave this way towards black and brown men who are less fortunate and experiencing homelessness in our neighborhood for temporary shelter could Only happen because of the era of Trump . Embarrassing that this group is moving forward.

    21. Anne says:

      I am a white woman— this is not about race— 95% of the homeless near me are mentally disturbed white men. I asked my girlfriend from Austria if they have this issue in Vienna? No, because it is ILLEGAL to camp out on the streets. You have a choice there: shelter, hospital, or jail. People usually do not choose the latter. BUT they tax higher, there is more income equality, more enlightenment, and a cleaner, nicer, safer city. You get what you pay for…

      • nbmcs says:

        Walking back from dinner the other night I encountered several disturbed and dangerous people (One man was ranting he was going to kill the next person that “pissed him off”) ….. I’m not a nervous or paranoid person but felt uneasy for the first time in many years …. especially on the UWS. It seems that conditions and quality of life are deteriorating rapidly, (not just the UWS), and I don’t want my kids in the city now. I’m not placing blame on anyone or any current events …. Just an observation. I hope NYC can turn things around but I don’t have much hope for this year and the UWS is not as safe as it has been.

    22. RV says:

      I somewhat agree that homeless shelters should use hotels during these times but why does it have to be in middle class neighborhood hotels, why do we always have to make the sacrifice? Why can’t a trump hotel or another one of those rich asshole hotels be the one to make the sacrifice?

      • UWSHebrew says:

        Hi, can you define what exactly is a “rich asshole hotel”? The owner(s) of the hotels currently housing the homeless on the UWS are extremely wealthy, and personally, I do feel that he/they are indeed assholes. So what do you mean exactly? The Waldorf Astoria?

        • RV says:

          I mean put them in hotels where a majority of the middle class doesn’t live. I know this is a gross oversimplification but it seems like the impoverished class in this city are taken care of by government services (as they should be) and the upper class people have second homes to go to but it’s the middle class that has to put up with a hotel being transformed into a homeless shelter in their neighborhood. So my solution is for deblasio to just put homeless people in trumps hotels on Columbus circle and make him be the one that has to suffer for once. If that hotel gets filled up then put them in the Ritz Carlton too.