By Carol Tannenhauser
At a packed press conference and rally on Wednesday morning in front of The Lucerne hotel on West 79th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, potential 2021 mayoral candidate Maya Wiley said the men experiencing homelessness who are currently living there “must stay put.”
The Lucerne is becoming an early test for Democratic candidates looking to hold citywide office. The day before, mayoral hopeful Comptroller Scott Stringer took a similar position, saying in a statement that “I am opposed to moving the men currently residing at The Lucerne,” adding that he might support another site “if the mayor, in good faith, identifies a location that would better serve these 283 men.”
The situation at the hotel-turned-temporary-homeless-shelter divided the community almost as soon as the men moved in in late July — with two days notice from the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) — purportedly to protect them from catching and spreading COVID-19 in crowded “congregate” shelters. Two other hotels in near proximity — the Belleclaire and Belnord — had already been converted to shelters only weeks before.
The Lucerne was the tipping point for many locals, who said they noticed an uptick in open drug use, harassment and quality of life crimes like public urination. The mayor said he visited the site and found conditions there “not acceptable,” prompting his decision on September 7 to move the men to other spots in the city.
But the pushback against the pushback has been equally intense, with a group called the UWS Open Hearts Initiative calling the mayor’s decision an “injustice” and demanding that the men remain at The Lucerne. One thousand community residents signed a letter to the mayor, who then changed his mind again, announcing on Monday that he was pausing all activity at The Lucerne while the situation was being reviewed.
Organized by the UWS Open Hearts Initiative, Wednesday morning’s gathering had the feeling of a celebration — and pep rally.
It was attended by equal parts press, neighborhood supporters, and residents of The Lucerne. Among the speakers were City Councilmember Helen Rosenthal and representatives from the Legal Aid Society, the Open Hearts Initiative, and the All Street Journal.
When asked if she was running for mayor, Wiley deferred to the occasion. “I am here standing with the residents,” she said. “I have launched nothing. I’m here because of the residents and the community leaders who are fighting to keep this shelter, which is so important to the lives of New Yorkers — cause we’re all New Yorkers — functioning in a way that’s effective for the residents and that also addresses any concerns the community might have. That’s a legitimate conversation to have. My understanding is that those concerns are being addressed.”
A resident of The Lucerne spoke. Known as Da Homeless Hero, he has emerged as a spokesperson and advocate for the other residents — and a prolific WSR commenter.
“I commend all the members of this community, including those who have spoken up to identify certain issues that have been apparent since we arrived,” he said. “By identifying those issues, we can check ourselves, and at the same time, Project Renewal (the nonprofit running the shelter) has stepped up to provide the services we need, here on site, as well as recreational and therapeutic activities. There’s a lot that’s being done to make sure the community remains a good community, and that those of us who are now in the community can be productive members while we remain here.”