People Make Art and Sleep Outside Homeless Shelter to Show ‘The Upper West Side is a Compassionate, Welcoming Place’

A group that is trying to make people experiencing homelessness feel welcome gathered outside The Lucerne Hotel on 79th Street on Saturday starting around 6 p.m.

The hotel and three others like it on the Upper West Side have become a flashpoint. Opponents say that people in the shelters should be moved to other locations, because they’re causing problems, including using drugs on the streets. But the people who gathered on Saturday, called the UWS Open Hearts Initiative, said neighbors should show more compassion for people facing difficult times and can deal with problems at the shelters through engagement rather than demonization.

When WSR arrived Saturday around 8, about 50 people were out on the sidewalks in front of the hotel, including shelter residents, locals, housing activists and politicians. We spoke with several of them before the official “sleepout” was to begin. Yoga mats and sleeping bags were tucked in a corner nearby.

Here’s what some of them had to say.

Marcus M., a Lucerne Hotel resident.

Marcus M.: “I’m new to this. I came into the shelter system thinking that I could actually better myself. I’m working, I’m employed, I can save money, you know, I could get a voucher, get my things together. I would think that being New Yorkers, we’d have more love for one another, especially with September 11th coming up and the coronavirus. Things that us as New Yorkers have been through, we gotta do things together, being unified. Get rid of the bad apples, but not guys like me who are actually trying to use this place to better ourselves.”

Sara Lind, UWS City Council candidate, with a young artist.

Sara Lind:  “I want everyone to know that the Upper West Side is a compassionate, welcoming place. I do think that the more we work together, the more we can solve problems. So to the extent there were issues at the beginning, when the hotels were first starting to be used, I think that it was community engagement that got us over some of those bumps. So we just need to stay engaged and I try to engage from a positive perspective, to stand up for housing justice and the importance of sheltering all New Yorkers.”

Roberto, a Belleclaire Hotel resident.

Roberto:Being on the Upper West Side has been a blessing to me. Coming from a facility where you have two people handling 230-plus cases, in that environment you feel like you’re just a case number. Coming into these hotels, some of these housing specialists only have to deal with 35, 40 cases at a time. It’s an advantage and an opportunity to try to get myself out of the position that I’m in right now. Every homeless person is different. Not everyone has a mental illness, not everyone is battling drug addiction or alcoholism. The only thing that we all have in common is that we’re homeless.”

UWS Open Hearts Initiative’s Corinne Low with son Kai.

Corinne Low: “We wanted to bring the focus back to the need to protect people in shelters. That is the point of the sleep-out. [Opponents] seem to think that if these people weren’t here, they’d cease to exist. But they wouldn’t. They’d be exposed to the elements, to risk, to the dangerous situation of Covid outbreaks in congregate shelters. We wanted to be sleeping out to show the reality that this is what happens when you don’t have shelters.”

Photos and interviews by Joy Bergmann.

NEWS | 29 comments | permalink
    1. UWSer says:

      How wonderful. Support and compassion for our neighbors is much needed during these difficult times.

    2. Spence says:

      Excellent! These are the good people.

    3. Bob Lamm says:

      I live diagonally across from the Lucerne, was there to support that effort last night, and it was wonderful. I’ve joined UWS Open Hearts Initiative.

      • UWSer says:

        I have also joined. I hope the UWS Open Hearts Initiative folks see that the visibility is resulting in more interested people singing up!

    4. James Brummel says:

      I’m not happy about how this is being portrayed. There have been shelters, halfways houses, SROs etc in my neighborhood for years, I never heard a complaint. The problem is the rapid increase in a concentrated area with little or no notice or oversight.

    5. Todd Kobell says:

      How does this bring business back?

      • Ian Alterman says:

        As you likely know, the issue of empty storefronts and lost businesses existed long before the homeless moved in, and even long before Covid. And again, even before the homeless moved in, Covid was causing even more loss – often serious. But this issue is not about bringing business back, which is a separate – and critical – issue. This issue is about saving lives, and doing so with compassion and tolerance, not intolerance and fear. Even were the homeless in the hotels to be moved back to the shelters tomorrow, the issue of lost business and empty storefronts would not change until the Covid crisis is gone, because the lost business issue is now inextricably linked with the Covid crisis and the economic crisis it has caused.
        I fully support the lost business issue, so I am not only a member of Open Hearts, but also of a very fine, diligent group called UWS SOS (Save Our Stores). Please consider joining that group to express your well-taken concerns about the lost business issue.

    6. Darren says:

      Roberto is “CORRECT”. Every momeless person is DIFFERENT. But, that is what the “PROBLEM” is. Some ‘PEOPLE’ don’t see that. They think we the HOMELESS are all the same. That will NEVER be tru

    7. MAD says:

      I see Sara Lind is here, bolstering her political image by using this situation. Sad. The writer of this article needs to see all sides of this issue, not just the love and light sentiments. There are real problems associated with the sudden placement of almost 300 people, many of whom need services and daytime occupation and are not getting it (yet). So let’s talk about real solutions and not drawing in chalk on the sidewalk. Oh, go ahead and call me a troll …

      • CB says:

        The people who are upset about the homeless shelters aren’t necessarily heartless or unkind. They are upset that their neighborhood is deteriorating and that many of the homeless people who have moved to the UWS don’t make good, clean, safe and respectful neighbors.

        What the chalk drawers don’t seem to understand is that with the city moving a lot of drug addicts and sex offenders into the hotels (using our tax dollars), combined with taking away money from the police, combined with the pandemic — GOOD FAMILIES AND DECENT PEOPLE ARE LEAVING. And they are leaving in serious numbers.

        Before you cry, “good riddance” – think about the tax dollars those families take with them, the money those families would have spent in local businesses, the resources they would give to public school PTAS, the babysitters and nannies and preschool teachers who will lose jobs.

        There are major economic ripple effects when professionals and ordinary families leave the city.

        When these people no longer want to be in NYC, the *whole city loses out.* That is what you don’t get — this terrible management by the city of the homelessness situation and the pandemic economy HURTS EVERYONE, including the most vulnerable.

        You cannot bring back tax revenue and employment by painting chalk signs and virtue signaling.

        Professional flight kills cities. Historical examples abound. The pat-yourself-on-the-back chalk-folks can’t create revenue and jobs and tax dollars out of their breeding hearts.

        If you care about making the city better – including having the tax base to create good public schools and affordable housing – then you can’t have a situation in which the people and the businesses who pay the most taxes and employ the most people all want to flee.

        • MQue says:

          Agree 100% with the ripple effect. People are so quick to say ‘good riddance” but have no idea how much that 1 family can do for a neighborhood.

    8. Elissa F. Levine says:

      Homelessness can happen to any one. Be unemployed with no savings and you are on your way. Easy to get in the system but hard to turn it around. Affordable housing is not easy to find. Most big cities don’t build enough affordable and senior apartments for people on social security. I have been on lists in 3 cities for ten years with no luck.

    9. Leon says:

      For the thousandth time: there is a happy medium position that the Marcus M. seems to be confirming – actively police the residents of the hotels and have a zero tolerance policy for illegal behavior (with illegal being defined before the Mayor eliminated all quality of life crimes). If the “bad apples” are removed, there would be a lot fewer protests. And this seems to be what the many upstanding hotel residents also want. It really isn’t that hard.

      Stop portraying those of us who want laws enforced as heartless Nazis. Everything isn’t so black and white.

    10. Newcavendish says:

      It’s good to hear that there are some good, hardworking, orderly people among the homeless in the hotels. We do need to accept the need to house them someplace, as well as to provide for their maintenance via our tax payments. But the city and the shelters need to do a better job of managing the behavior of the less admirable “guests” of the shelters. An acquaintance who has a small business near the Lucerne tells me he’s had to call the police three times since it started: twice for people shooting up on his doorstep, once for someone parading around naked. He sees his business as being hurt. That kind of thing can’t be tolerated. This should be a two-way street: welcome them yes, but expect them to behave within normal standards of conduct

    11. Truth seeker says:

      Sara Lind: “So we just need to stay engaged and I try to engage from a positive perspective.” Says the lady who then tweeted the picture of a piece of rope attached to the weeks-old scaffolding claiming it was a noose. Her determination in making this a class or racial war instead of focusing on the homeless pop needs and UWS safety speaks volumes to the political game she is playing ahead of her attempt to represent district 6 in city council. No, thank you

    12. Martha M Dwyer says:

      I welcome the homeless to our neighborhood and strongly support the welcome. However, I am very concerned about the markedly increased number of people in our neighborhood who don’t wear masks or social distance. That’s the homeless on top of many residents.
      The service providers who run the hotel shelters should be doing much more to enforce COVID-19 precautions. I live near the Lucerne and see not only Lucerne clients, but also security guards and Project Renewal staff outside without masks. That risks not only the health of neighbors, but also that of these individuals. I have repeatedly contacted Project Renewal regarding this matter and have received no satisfactory response. I would appreciate hearing from others who share my concern.

    13. Compassionate and Concerned UWS resident(who lives in the immediate vicinity of Lucerne) says:

      Not sure why media has a hard time grasping, residents of the immediate vicinity can advocate for their kids safety (open drug use, lewd behavior, violence) and also be concerned that the new shelter residents aren’t receiving needed social services , just a room. Why does it have to be “if you’re advocating for safety, you’re a NIMBY and you don’t care about the residents?” Meanwhile, the media needs to start asking the vocal members of the Open Heart initiative WHERE THEY RESIDE. It’s very easy to have the police add coverage to the block(normally there’s no police Presence unless a 911 call) and then make a great compassionate plea for the cameras and when over, leave and go back to their different neighborhood. Citizens need to start asking questions all the time. Why are the OHI group trying to create conflict with the concerned residents Who have kids walking back to school in a week? The adversary should be all elected officials who have yet to reply why the level of social services isn’t accessible or being provided when the total DHS budget exceeds $2B.

    14. Lynesia vaughn says:

      Hello nyc I am a mom of 6 three older n three younger children not bad children I just need help getting a apartment I have a city throw voucher been needing help just been silent ……

    15. cma says:

      Re:#8 Good and decent people are NOT leaving the city because of this Temporary housing of homeless from shelters in UWS and other hotels. They are leaving because of COVID-19’s disastrous economic effect as well as family health concerns. Some people could no longer afford to have 2 homes (city and country), so gave up the one in our city. Enough said.

    16. Mark says:

      The Belleclaire and the Lucerne have added a very unpleasant element of aggressive panhandling, shooting up and public masturbation to the neighborhood. My daughter after being grabbed on West 77th and Broadway will not venture out of the apt. But, hey, just keeping drawing chalk. Too bad no one in the chalk crowd feels bad about my daughter.

    17. Eva says:

      I’m 82 and walk with a stroller. After being accosted for money repeatedly at 79th Street from men with No Masks, I just stay home to avoid getting Covid. I have never seen such aggressive means to get money and I’ve been here since the 70’s. And the question, I ask is why are these men so desperate for money?

    18. Fed up says:

      I’m sure you won’t print this.. but the chalk writers don’t live here! How about interviewing the folks that do? I have one child that after having her phone stolen by a deranged man on West 78th is now afraid to walk to school.

    19. Rich says:

      This life long Democrat is voting Republican this year. Good bye to DeBlasio, Nadler and Sara Lind!
      I want politicians who care about safety!

    20. Amber says:

      This BS. The Homeless came to the Bell Claire and the Lucerne in order not to get Covid. Meanwhile, someone did get Covid at the Lucerne. The entire group should be quarantine for two weeks, 14 days. However they are not. In addition, the man never wear masks or they wear it below their mouth…so they can spend the day drinking on the benches!
      My mother who lives with me is diabetic and cannot afford to get sick. She is now a prisoner in our apartment because of the aggressive panhandling. Even going to the bank is not easy anymore because the guy holding the door insist that you give him money!

    21. Donna Moussa says:

      I think the people on the UWS are doing a great kindness for the homeless people that are residing in the nearby hotels. It is true not everyone in a shelter is homeless because of mental, drug of alcoholism. A majority of these people are homeless for other reasons. They need the compassion & understanding.

    22. UWSider says:

      We will be successful in having them removed.
      In the end, you will all thank us.

      You’re Welcome.

    23. Faith says:

      I am inspiredly this. How do we help people living in the projects?
      They seem so isolated.