Bitter Taste Lingers on All Sides After City’s Decision to Remove Homeless Men


Signs from a rally in support of the shelter on Wednesday. Photo by Carol Tannenhauser.

The reactions to the city’s decision on Tuesday to remove 283 homeless men from The Lucerne Hotel on 79th Street came fast and furious.

Opponents have been portrayed as rich and powerful NIMBYs who bullied the mayor into giving in with threats of lawsuits. Councilmember Helen Rosenthal wrote on Twitter that “It’s a sad day when the threat of lawsuit gets city hall to reverse a decision. What message does this send that groups who can afford to hire high-powered lawyers R the ones who will get their way.”

Mayor de Blasio said at a press conference that he had visited the shelter recently and thought conditions around it were “not acceptable,” without going into detail. He had spent several weeks downplaying concerns about the shelter.

A press conference and rally took place in front of the hotel on Wednesday morning, featuring speeches by members of the UWS Open Hearts Initiative and politicians including Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, Helen Rosenthal and state assembly member Linda Rosenthal (no relation to each other).

Williams called for the decision to be overturned.

“It is sad that in our neighborhood, a bastion of great privilege and of liberal family values, that the temporary presence of these homeless individuals moved here in the midst of a public health crisis of unprecedented proportions, divided our community so intensely and caused some to respond with fear and anger,” Linda Rosenthal said.

The West Side Community Organization, which had pushed to have the homeless men moved, responded with gratitude to the mayor for the decision on Tuesday, saying in a statement that “the decision to move 300 troubled individuals out of the Lucerne Hotel into state-accredited shelters where they will receive on-site support and treatment was an important step for all New Yorkers.” But members of the Facebook group that spurred the nonprofit reacted angrily to the depiction of them as heartless, writing “shame on you” in coordinated Twitter posts to Helen and Linda Rosenthal.

Members have written op-eds saying their opposition to the shelter is about safety not race. Their lawyer, Randy Mastro also put out the statement below.

Project Renewal, which runs the shelter, also put out a statement, saying the men “deserve better.”

“Last night we learned that our staff and clients are being moved from the Lucerne to another location. Through all of this, the health and well-being of our clients is, and has been, our number one priority. These men, many of whom have suffered trauma and been disadvantaged all their lives, deserve better. So do our 50 staff members who have worked around the clock to ensure clients had a smooth and successful transition. Finally, there have been numerous supporters and new friends we have made in the neighborhood. We are grateful to each of them, especially Council Member Helen Rosenthal, Borough President Gale Brewer, Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal, Mark Diller and CB7, and the many compassionate and caring residents who see our clients as humans deserving of our collective support.”

NEWS | 72 comments | permalink
    1. Dontaskdonttell says:

      My boyfriend lives across from the Lucerne and we frequent the restaurants on Amsterdam. All of the owners/managers constantly complained of the nuisances they and their customers were experiencing since adding the shelter to the area. We witnessed several ourselves while dining out. The decision to place these men in these hotels was clearly done by people looking at a zone on a computer screen, who do not know or live in the area. For reference, my boyfriend and I are both Black, and though we both live on the UWS we are not rich by any means – he has lived in his apartment all his life (30+ years) and I moved down here as an adult after living in Harlem all my life. I mention this to rebuke the claim that the “racist elite” flexed their power to have these men removed. My boyfriend and I both signed petitions to remove the temporary shelters – not because of race or class, but mainly because we didn’t see how adding hundreds of people, who will not follow social rules, to an already heavily populated area created a more healthy environment for everyone during a pandemic. This city is crowded, but there is still a lot of space to be found in less populated areas.

      • UWS lady says:

        Thank you for your well thought out, well written comment.

      • Jerry says:

        This was not my experience. Dined at Nice Martin soon after the men moved in without experiencing the slightest issue, seeing no sign of distress from the maitre d or servers at the establishment. Last week leisurely walked up Amsterdam at dinner hour and could detect no problems: streets were teeming with people, tables at restaurants on both sides of the street were full. A long line outside Emack & Bolio’s, stopped to get gelato at Amorino. Enjoyed our dessert sitting on a bench on the tree well for a good period of time. No problems whatsoever.

      • Jason UWS says:

        There is a man across the street from the Lucerne who has been repeatedly yelling obscenities at the Staff of the Lucerne and Project Renewal and these homeless men. They actually had to ask him to leave or have the police called. I saw this same man smoking pot in front of the building at 10:15 pm 2 nights ago when I came out of Duane Reade. The Duane Reade staff actually told him “we can smell that all the way in here” That was the only nuisance I saw on the street. Other wise the street was empty. Why would his behavior be tolerated?

      • BuddyGuy says:

        This is way too logical and reasonable. I’m sorry, I’m going to have to ask you to leave lol.

      • Sue says:

        Thank you for an excellent letter

      • Worldlygirl says:

        I was an UWS resident for many years and completely agree with dontaskdonttell. A friend on 66th St and said she fears for her safety. Privilege is a very overused phrase today, we all worked hard to live where we feel safety for our families.

    2. NYC Jack says:

      Adios. They will be just fine in the shelter. Jumaane Williams is misguided…

    3. Farnham maxwell says:

      Kindness and compassion lose out here.. We are far more interested in bars and dining ..The UWS-ers show their true colors..
      But thank you Ms Rosenthal for trying…

    4. Mel says:

      I think the very root of the problem is that these men were not be taken care of. Or maybe they were, but it didn’t seem that way to me. IF they were truly being taken care of, the community of the UWS just might have had a different reaction.

    5. David Kleinberg-Levin says:

      Homeless people need to be provided with safe, clean residences. I am sympathetic. But it was and is an unwise decision to shelter them in a hotel in the midst of a residential neighborhood. Two hundred eighty people suddenly dumped into a neighborhood to which they contribute nothing and do not participate in and have no stake in! BAD IDEA! Move them OUT!

    6. eje says:

      Many of us thank Project Renewal staff for your professional dedication and personal compassion to assist the transition to the Lucerne – a place of relative tranquility and safety for temporary residents – and now their 2nd abrupt relocation.

      What saddens me in addition to the default “eviction” many of us demanded, is the forfeiture all of us suffer of opportunity lost. Headlines and stories will now fairly reflect a tarnished UWS’s reputation. When we could have been the community to break the mold – that pitched in with Project Renewal, the NYPD, restaurants and other businesses, religious organizations and civic institutions, and one another to address the needs of fellow citizens – now stories will tell that we did not.

      Instead, we face the reputation of capitulating to fears and to evicting by default individuals with very very little whom some of us have maligned. It’s not a pretty story. Not a story children would wish to hear.

      In the end, fear and not our better angels prevailed. If we ever have another chance, let’s look closely in the mirror.

      Please join in making a contribution to Project Renewal.

      • Alex says:

        the opportunity lost was the inability of city govt to understand that brazen drug use harassment of residents harassment of women damage of property and so on will eventually elicit a backlash

      • Susan says:

        The UWS will not suffer a “tarnished reputation” except among people who romanticized the presence of so many men with mental, active drug and other behavioral problems. Reasonable people will direct their ire at the politicians who have kicked this can down the road for 50 years and NEVER locate these shelters or SROs in their own neighborhoods. Wonder why?!?

    7. Albert says:

      These men need help. If they have been shooting up in the middle of Broadway, relieving themselves in public, and harassing passers-by, they have clearly not been receiving the assistance they need at Lucerne and other nearby locales. No human being would choose to live live this way. I hope that they are being moved to locations that will provide them with the services they deserve.

      • nemo paradise says:

        Bingo!

      • Jason UWS says:

        Albert, they have not been shooting up in the middle of Broadway and I saw Carl urinating this morning behind a car. I have seen Carl urinating for over 7 years on occasion. I did not see any men from the Lucerne urinating. They have not pooped in the middle of Broadway. They have not attacked anyone. They have not robbed anyone on the street. They have not stolen any cars. At 10pm they have a curfew.

    8. Jerry says:

      I’m a long-time resident of the UWS and I am embarrassed by and ashamed of the behavior of the group of people who organized the hyperbolic and almost even hysterical opposition to the 283 men being placed at the Lucerne. I wish those people realized just how unfair, wrongheaded, myopic and selfish they really were.

    9. Joe Rappaport says:

      “We are thankful to the city for working with us and others to provide the city’s homeless population with covid safe facilities and the resources they need. This is a win-win!”

      Except for the men in the shelter, and our city. It’s too bad all that effort and resources this group put into getting rid of the shelter didn’t go toward welcoming these New Yorkers and making sure they (and the neighborhood) were as safe as possible. Our local elected officials deserve credit for supporting the shelter, but this still is a sad day for the Upper West Side.

    10. J. L. Rivers says:

      I guess we can all agree that this was a very sad episode in the narrative of the UWS. It exposed the good, the bad and the ugly of the members of the community.

    11. Jennifer says:

      I am deeply ashamed of my neighborhood right now. To the good people fighting on the side of humanity, thank you.

      • Dave K. says:

        Just one thought, the nice people who own the bodega on Broadway between 78th and 79th used to stay open 24 hours and was/is a respectable place to buy my milk, et. al. at anytime. When these folks were moved into the Lucerne and Belleclaire they experienced some problems which I will not describe. Suffice it to say, what about their rights to operate a business? I haven’t heard anyone mention folks who have worked hard before and during this pandemic only to be blind sided by irresponsible decisions made by a questionable group of politicians. Suffice it to say they have suffered in silence..well done! What about their rights!!!

        • Jason UWS says:

          The Bodegea has not been open 24 hours since they re-opened from the pandemic. That was well before these men arrived at the Lucerne Hotel. Duane Reade did the same but are now of course open hours.

    12. Ted says:

      Even if the city was right in using UWS hotels to house homeless individuals they went about it in entirely the wrong way. What some term NIMBYism was predictable and a good communications plan would have anticipated it. The agency knew they were placing clients at risk for recurring drug use but did little or nothing to prepare the community. To me the most stunning thing is not that they did it but rather that they did it so badly with such lack of forethought and community engagement.

      Nobody likes a surprise they perceive as negative sprung on them as a fait accompli. Re-establishing trust and communication becomes much harder when a community feels like local government is trying to slide something past them under the literal or figurative cover of darkness.

      The city shot themselves in the foot but of course those who will suffer most will be the clients. Displaced, dislodged, and disappeared with out a clear plan in sight to really help them.

      Stock up on cynicism this holiday season. It will be cheap and plentiful.

    13. Kathleen Treat says:

      Bravo, Project Renewal. The Lucerne should be seen as an ideal with caring, responsible staff on site. And where were these men sent?

    14. Nevets K says:

      The squeaky wheel got the oil.
      So what else is new?
      And maybe the community is re-forming: pissed off bourgeoisie rather than guilt-ridden liberals.
      Perhaps the loss of a thousand parking spots, the daily fear of getting hit by a bicycle, electric bike or electric scooter, the loss and sacrifices wrought by COVID, and the top-down imposition of the shelters sparked the change. Once in a while, even “nice guys” have had enough.

    15. quantz says:

      Homeless people should get the help they need. UWS residents deserve to maintain the quality of the communities they have built. These are not interchangeable things where either one needs to be sacrificed for another. Pitting these groups against each other is missing the real cause of the problem. Fix a system that forgoes the creation of affordable housing to only benefit luxury developers or this will never be solved. Placing hundreds of homeless men with serious drug/health problems in ANY community would be a problem. This is a systematic issue and from the BS responses elected officials have been providing its clear that no one really intends to fix it.

    16. RW says:

      I am so embarrassed and ashamed of the UWS community near 79th street. It’s so obvious their wealth and privilege allowed them to raise the money to hire the most expensive lawyer in the city to fight City Hall and they won . I recognize that there’s barely any Black people living from 72-86th street and the black and brown men stood out.

      Where is the decency and compassion this community has always had we are still In the middle of a pandemic.
      for the grace of God I hope the group who got them kicked out need of a helping hand and treated this way by others.

    17. chris says:

      The ones screaming Elitists conveniently forget that the UWS was not complaining loudly until the people started ODing, committing violent crimes, dealing drugs and pooping on the sidewalk. And common sense here–if you are spending all that money on housing, your total budget drops for anything else. Such as one of *their* top concerns … treatment. And no — taking it out of the police budget is not the answer. Even more middle class will hit the Henry Hudson Parkway taking their tax dollars with them with the crime that will come with that. And no rich people are not the answer because they have many other homes and they will just become residents there.

      • Jerry says:

        Since the days before the 283 men moved into the Lucerne I’ve read comments here about “people ODing, committing violent crimes, dealing drugs and pooping on the sidewalk.” Did any of this actually happen, and if so how much? We had homeless (and acts of crime) on the UWS well before the men moved into the Lucerne, and didn’t the local police precinct commander report that crime went down in the last month?

    18. Josh P. says:

      Where will these men go now?
      “Make them someone else’s problem” is not a solution.

      • Anomalous says:

        Keep moving !!!!

      • Abdul Sayeed says:

        Until our nation as a whole decides (quite rightly) to spend the tens of billions of dollars necessary to provide housing, intensive counseling, drug and alcohol treatment, and job training to these deserving, yet unfortunate men and women, the only “solution” will in fact be to make it someone else’s problem.
        The same holds true in education. The first rule for nearly all parents is to try very hard not to send their children to a school that is “afflicted” with the most needy and vulnerable populations.
        “Who among us…”

    19. Herbert moore says:

      Please move them out of the Belnord and Belleclaire hotel as well . Some of the homeless caused a lot of problems for residents on the upper west side. I truly believe people have a right live safe and clean neighborhood. I’ve stated this before I’m black this has nothing to do with color, please stop playing race enough enough of it now .

    20. Allison says:

      Like i said yesterday, I’m ashamed of the neighborhood.

      It would be a great feat of karma if nothing in the neighborhood changed once the homeless men were rehomed. These NIMBYs don’t deserve to live in a nice neighborhood because they’re so offing selfish.

    21. Hershel Blumpkin says:

      Tired of hearing it.
      Yes, we easily raised the money to legally fight this. It’s important to us.
      Find something that’s important to you, organize, raise money and make a change.
      That’s how it’s done.
      Now stop crying.

      • UWSHebrew says:

        You have the funniest name I’ve seen, and nobody seems to catch on to it (are you the poster Blumpkin — sans “Hershel” as well?). I’m kind of ashamed I know this, but I was a Howard Stern listener during the 90’s.

    22. StopTheRepetition says:

      Oh great…another article that gives people yet another opportunity to voice the same opinions on both sides. How many times do people have to say the same thing in multiple articles? The majority of comments in each article are similar – no one is adding anything different than the previous posters. Can’t this be moderated a little better? It’s not like people are going on record with their real names which would make their comments attributable.

      • Annie says:

        Agreed! I am getting tired of the same old arguments from both sides dragged again and again. Makes me think that very few people truly enjoy thinking outside of the box and coming up with their own conclusions.

    23. UWSHebrew says:

      I have no bitter taste. Get them into facilities that can help them, and not dump them into a hotel, where a portion of them have displayed behavior to us that is too explicit to describe.

    24. Steven says:

      Excuse me. If de Blasio and his incompetent administration would have actually had a plan for the safety and welfare of both the homeless men and we who live on the UWS, this fiasco would never have happened in the first place.

      And how a group of self righteous people think sticking 300 homeless men with histories of mental heath problems, drug addiction and violence into $300 dollar a night hotel rooms paid for by tax dollars with zero security or medical services represent, some kind of “high moral ground” is beyond me.

      I’m happy these individuals have been relocated into facilities that can provide the safety and health services they need and deserve.

    25. MKing says:

      The amount of money these hoteliers are being paid to house these men and women is astronomical. We are all paying for it. The hoteliers have turned their hotels into slums.
      I believe the owners of the properties were DeBlasio campaign contributors but as of this morning he has got more on his hands than he can handle.https://nypost.com/2020/09/09/de-blasio-calls-conditions-at-uws-hotel-shelter-unacceptable/

    26. forget it says:

      If UWS is so open and welcoming why not make apartments more affordable for people making less than 100k a year first! And not a token amount of tiny basement studios but real and nice 1 and 2 bdrs for under $2000 a month!

      I love how these people will fight to give homeless people a free room but don’t care at all about normal hard working people that just want to live closer to their non CEO level jobs!

    27. steve says:

      Helen Rosenthal, we need high powered lawyers because we are not being represented by the people elected to serve us. People like YOU

    28. Jason UWS says:

      Why are you all continuing to lie? These men DID NOT COMMIT violent acts, but yes you all say they did. THEY did not. Their only crime is being homeless. The Upper West Side is now completely given over to the rich and powerful who can raise money and have friends in high places. A shameful display. Your vitriolic comments are full display to everyone see.

      • lynn says:

        Theft and wielding a weapon is no longer considered a crime? You should have a chat with the CVS and/or DR employees as well as the bodega owners in the neighborhood.

    29. Lorene Farnsworth says:

      This is very sad, the neighborhood itself will be occupying a different space in the rest of New Yorkers’ heads from now on. The rest of New Yorkers, who are undergoing the same type of emergency housing problems, but do not have fifty-thousand dollars to throw at a lawyer.

    30. Christian says:

      “Win-win” my eye. There may be arguments on both sides but pretending these guys will be better off in a shelter is right out of “A Christmas Carol.”

      This article (linked) is about homeless families rather than about single men but I encourage all who care about the issue to read it. Also, Coalition for the Homeless has been doing good work for many years and deserves support.

      https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/09/09/magazine/homeless-students.html

    31. Steven says:

      “ The ones screaming Elitists conveniently forget that the UWS was not complaining loudly until the people started ODing, committing violent crimes, dealing drugs and pooping on the sidewalk.“

      Well said – True respect goes both ways.

    32. Elaine Ellis says:

      As a long time Upper West Sider (for 50 years) I am totally disgusted by those who have sought, and now sadly succeeded, in getting these unfortunate men taken out of the empty hotels. The men were not aggressive, did not threaten us and they observe problem social responsibility. They did congregate on Broadway and church steps – and don’t some of us. But they also went to their support groups and often jobs, sadly a good distance away. In the hotels they had their own rooms, bathrooms and were safe for themselves and others. It is so sad that neighbors spent a ridiculous amount of money on a lawyer to get them. The money would have been better spent on food and housing for the homeless.

    33. DHSworker says:

      I work for DHS. MAJORITY of shelters and SRO buildings are in neighborhoods that primarily made of of people of color. The hotels are temporary and UWS residents complain. The so called liberals on the UWS are republicans who are Pro-Choice. comments left talk about they have a right to safe/clean area so do the residents of Harlem, WH, Bed-Sty, South Bronx but Shelters are always opened in those areas. No one from the UWS compalined because IT WAS NOT IN THEIR BACK YARD. The shelters in the neighborhoods of people of color contain schools, hard working new yorkers who dont have the money like UWS. To the few black residents that lived in 5 block radius of the hotel,you can say you want a safe neighborhood but dont dismissed the undertone of classism, racism and elitism of this act.

      • Mel says:

        Of course you are right. Those neighborhoods with less money or less time and resources to organize get stuck with situations that other more affluent and resourceful neighborhoods can repel. But the solution isn’t to force these unacceptable situations on more affluent neighborhoods, the solution is to provide solutions to the homeless which do not jeopardize the safety of the people that reside there. If the city had REAL solutions and help for these people, then I think almost any neighborhood would be willing to live amongst them. But from what most of us saw, most of these men were not being tended to and taken care of and their presence created a real sense of insecurity.

      • BuddyGuy says:

        The misconception here is that there aren’t already a large number of shelters and homeless housed in this district. Based on data from September 2019, the UWS ranks 20 of 59 community districts for both individuals sheltered in the district and the share of citywide total shelter population.

        https://citylimits.org/2019/09/10/data-drop-which-nyc-neighborhoods-host-the-most-homeless-shelter-beds/

    34. Jane Andrias says:

      As a lifelong resident of NYC and a 44 year resident of the upper west side, I am ashamed and outraged by the action my “neighbors”took against the residents of the Lucerne Hotel. What is most disturbing is that this action underscores and perpetuates the endemic and systemic racism and classism that has been the incurable plague in this country.

    35. Mel says:

      In my opinion, this whole issue boiled down to one simple thing: IF the city and Project Renewal could house the homeless in UWS hotels and ensure, in practice and in consequent reality, that none of the UWS residents would come to harm, be harassed, etc., then I feel that the UWS community should and would be obligated to accept the homeless. But, conversely, if the city and Project Renewal FAIL in regard to the community’s safety, then it’s over. In short, the UWS community should NOT be obligated or shamed to endure an unsafe situation for themselves or their children. To me the issue is that simple. We do not have to put up with unsafe situations under any circumstances. Safety is primary.

    36. Matt G says:

      I was so surprised at the racism allegations. They imply that those experiencing homelessness are all of one persuasion and that’s not the case. There is no one race or ethnicity that represents the state of homelessness. The implication is offensive on multiple levels and shows how ill thought out it is to bandy about terms like “racism” and when that is fine u whittle away at the profundity that such a term should imbue.

    37. Newcavendish says:

      This has been botched by both sides. Even British papers have reported “chaos” on the UWS, what nonsense! But the City and the non-profits should take the lesson to heart. This decision was taken with precious little notice or preparation, and little obvious attempt to manage the behavior of the homeless persons plopped in the hotels. The other side also made themselves foolish by thoughtless, knee-jerk “compassionate” reactions and Trumpian name-calling about their opponents, with no accommodation of legitimate concerns of their neighbors. Yes, we should not be NIMBY and our homeless dependents have to go someplace, but there should be some management, structure, and planning about how they are accommodated, and due attention to the impact on the taxpayers of the neighborhood.

    38. Laura D says:

      We need a far more creative and realistically helpful program beyond just moving homeless PEOPLE from location to location. Follow through and follow up with programs run by experienced providers that include whatever is called for: food, nutrition, health, mental health, addiction issues, etc etc.
      Case by case.

    39. Scatman says:

      This is so racist. Racism has no place on the UWS. The whole thing reeks of white privilege.
      BLM everywhere in NTC. Clear case of the white man keeping the black man down. Racism at it’s worst. Homeless people of color removed from a rich neighborhood.
      It is also homophobic.

      • UWSHebrew says:

        Homophobic? I get the false racism rant, but not the last accusation.

      • Leon says:

        I’m not sure why I am dignifying your ridiculous comments with a response. But you do realize that there are many white homeless people in our neighborhood. And most people feel the same way about white black homeless people. We are all generally a lot less troubled by people, regardless of their race, who obey accepted forms of behavior, than those who don’t. And we want all of these people to receive the help they deserve rather than just warehoused in an overpriced hotel.

        So stop with the cries of racism. You are hurting the movement you are trying to help. And I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about with homophobia.

    40. Shawn says:

      Amsterdam has been slightly affected, but Broadway between 75th-80th is utterly disgusting. Deny or rationalize it all you want, but as someone who strolls my small child through this stretch daily it’s very concerning. Hopefully this move will help clean things up, even if only slightly

    41. Evan Bando says:

      Who screens these comments? What criteria do you have given some of the incendiary nonsense that gets through while other comments are censored? Some are well over 100 words but they get through while others do not. What is your criteria besides personal taste?

    42. Lorraine V says:

      DeBlasio did NOT say he visited the shelter!! He said he drove around the UWS. Very big difference. What he saw was more likely street homeless than anything related to the Lucerne. Any time I’ve walked around there in the last few weeks, it had been quiet.

    43. Jay says:

      The issue is not that the permanent UWS residents are not compassionate or unwelcoming to homeless individuals. Rather it is that these homeless men have severe mental health and addiction challenges requiring help that is significantly more intensive than what is being offered or even possible through a homeless shelter model (itself an archaic and ineffective means of attempting to help even highly-functioning homeless people [fyi: vouchers 4x more effective]). Just as you would never perform open heart surgery without the correct doctors, facility, equipment, and protocols, it is not reasonable to hope these profoundly-ill individuals could be served by simply moving them into empty hotels with the poorly-run agencies acting as de facto wardens.