By Amelia Roth-Dishy
On the very morning when 235 homeless men were expected to be forcibly relocated from The Lucerne Hotel on 79th Street to another hotel downtown, a judge blocked the move — the latest twist in a remarkable legal battle that has gone back and forth repeatedly for more than a month. Three of the men staying at the hotel had sued, asking the court to stop them from being sent to a Radisson on William Street and claiming it would cause them “irreparable harm.”
The saga of the Lucerne is once again in limbo, following months of acrimony. The next court hearing is set for November 16, so there’s a chance that the men will be able to stay until at least then.
The hotel began being used as a shelter in July as a way to protect the men from being exposed to Covid-19. But it caused a rift on the Upper West side, between those who said the men were too disruptive and those who said the community should be more welcoming.
On Monday morning, a bevy of elected officials, community members, and faith leaders gathered in front of The Lucerne for a rally and press conference decrying the move. At the time, they had no idea that Judge Debra James would overrule the city’s decision. Supporters toted signs both broad and specific, including “Black Lives Matter” and “the UWS Is For Everyone.”
The Upper West Side Open Hearts Initiative, which has been supportive of the decision to make The Lucerne into a shelter, organized the event.
“This [move] was orchestrated by a small group on the Upper West Side who have NIMBY, racist ideas and hired a very expensive lawyer,” Helen Strong, a member of the Open Hearts Initiative, said. “I’m hoping today the courts issue a stay on this move and that the mayor realizes that this move doesn’t need to happen at all.”
The rapidly developing nature of the situation meant that many who gathered at 9am, including reporters, appeared unsure whether or not to expect DHS buses. The press conference began around 9:30am. Melissa Sanchez, a member of the Open Hearts leadership team, spoke first and described the community ties and job placements that the men of the Lucerne have developed on the Upper West Side. “They are as entitled to be a part of this community as anyone else,” Sanchez said.
State Senators Brian A. Benjamin and Brad Hoylman both called on the city to address the underlying structural problem of homelessness.
“As far as I’m concerned, we should not be debating about this homeless shelter or that homeless shelter. We should be talking about permanent housing,” Benjamin said.
Among the public figures who stood with Open Hearts volunteers and supporters was Lindsay Boylan, who recently ran against Jerry Nadler in the NY-10 Democratic primary. “The men who are living in the Lucerne matter. Their humanity matters,” she told the Rag. “The city and the mayor have really fumbled on this.”
Janos Marton, a candidate in the upcoming 2021 Manhattan District Attorney race to unseat Cy Vance, was also in attendance.
Lucerne residents DHH and Larry Thomas both addressed the crowd. The men are two of the three plaintiffs in the temporary restraining order, filed yesterday against DHS and the Mayor, which was granted this afternoon and thereby stopped the move. “The fact that we’re going to a place where there’s another group that’s saying they don’t want us there, before we even got there, that’s traumatizing in itself,” Da Homeless Hero said, referring to a group called Downtown New Yorkers for Safer Streets that has already organized in FiDi to block the men’s scheduled relocation to the Radisson. Da Homeless Hero, who has become an outspoken advocate for unhoused New Yorkers and something of a local celebrity, was called back to field questions from reporters.
Council Member Helen Rosenthal arrived late and spoke privately with Da Homeless Hero.
A representative for the West Side Community Organization, which has opposed the shelter, sent the following comment:
“The West Side Community Organization (“WestCo”) is disappointed that a court has temporarily delayed the relocation of the vulnerable population currently housed at the Lucerne to a better facility being converted into a permanent shelter that can best serve their needs. It’s not doing right for this neighborhood, and it’s not doing right by this vulnerable population. The compassionate thing to do is to move them to a proper facility where they will get all of the services they require, not continue to house them doubled-up in an SRO hotel that is not equipped to provide them the services they need. WestCo will therefore continue to advocate against the use of SRO hotels to house this vulnerable population and for them to return to proper, full-service shelters.”