Will the Men of The Lucerne Stay or Go? A Hearing Monday Might Decide

An Open Hearts press conference on Sunday. Helen Rosenthal and Maya Wiley, back left.

By Carol Tannenhauser and Amelia Roth-Dishy

After months of living in legal limbo, the residents of The Lucerne hotel may find out their fate on Monday, November 16th, when Judge Debra A. James of the New York State Supreme Court presides over a full hearing on the question of their relocation.

Two groups are fighting about whether the residents, who are experiencing homelessness, should remain at The Lucerne or be moved to another hotel in the Financial District, also being used to house homeless people during the pandemic, when dormitory-style shelters are unsafe. On one side is the West Side Community Organization — WestCo — arguing that the men’s presence at The Lucerne is bad for them and the neighborhood. On the other is the UWS Open Hearts Initiative — Open Hearts — advocating for the men to stay.

At the heart of the legal argument for staying, made by attorney Michael Hiller on behalf of three residents of The Lucerne, is that moving would cause them “irreparable harm.” On October 19th, Hiller won a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) on those grounds, averting at the last minute a move ordered by Mayor de Blasio himself, some say in response to pressure from WestCo.

“There is certain damage or injury that the men would sustain if they were forcibly removed from the shelter,” Hiller told WSR, at an Open Hearts press conference at The Lucerne on Saturday. “First and foremost, there are upwards of 50 jobs being made available to them, which would disappear if they were moved. Second, there are critically important social service and mental health programs that the men are involved in and would lose. The judge agreed that losing the jobs and programs would constitute irreparable harm, and when you are confronted with irreparable harm, you are entitled to a restraining order.”

The other side, represented by Randy Mastro, a former deputy mayor under Rudy Giuliani, will also produce respondents — a resident and neighbors of The Lucerne who have signed affidavits saying that they want the move to the FiDi shelter to take place. On behalf of WestCo, Mastro argues that harm is being done by keeping the men at The Lucerne, which lacks recreational space and is further from their shelter of origin with its services and therapies. The new hotel would also offer each man his own room. However, controversy has erupted about how the respondent was found. The Daily News reported that residents of the shelter were offered food or money in return for signing papers stating they wanted to move, according to affidavits filed in the case. “The new affidavits do not explicitly name WestCo as responsible for the offers of food and money in exchange for statements from the homeless men,” the Daily News reported.

“It’s a wholly false story,” insisted Jackie Moffett, a board member of WestCo. “It is entirely made up. And it’s interesting to point out that Open Hearts has created an Amazon list for the residents of The Lucerne, they have pizza parties for the residents of The Lucerne, they buy metro cards for the residents of The Lucerne, three of whom are plaintiffs in this case. What’s the difference between that and a woman volunteer who went and had a cup of coffee and a meal with people she was talking to to see if they would be interested in being a plaintiff and signing an affidavit?”

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On Monday, the judge might deny the TRO or extend it and grant a Preliminary Injunction, which would allow the men to stay in The Lucerne while the case is being decided. She could also extend the TRO and reserve judgment. As the day approaches, WSR contacted some of the main stakeholders for comments.

The Department of Homeless Services (DHS) wrote, “While litigation proceeds, we will continue serving the men at the Lucerne….Should the courts allow it, we will proceed with relocating the men to the Wall Street-area location we identified, which also has more space for on-site services than the Lucerne, and is closer to clients’ existing medical care.”

“Everyone calls this a David and Goliath story, but we’re the David,” said Moffett, the WestCo board member. “We are a rag-tag group of volunteers who came together — lots of us met online — and we are up against a very well-organized machine that is fueled by our politicians. The world seems to have the need to see this as a binary story, you’re either for the homeless or against the homeless. None of us is against the homeless!”

Moffett said that crime rose in the zip code after their arrival. (According to NYPD stats, major crimes have declined in the 20th precinct this year as compared to the same period in 2019.) She also pointed out that the community wasn’t notified in advance and that the men didn’t come directly from a congregate shelter, as is frequently claimed: they were transferred from another hotel after community complaints. But, most important, she said, “there was no plan and there are no on-site services at The Lucerne. And because the men aren’t getting what they need within the walls of the hotel — because it’s a hotel, not a shelter — all their issues are coming onto the street, which is why we’re seeing what we’re seeing.”

In a press release, Open Hearts asserted that since the TRO was first issued, residents now receive on-site wraparound services from Project Renewal’s Recovery Center, which is unusual for a standard shelter. These services include intakes, occupational therapy, nursing, case management, wellness programs, and supplemental programming that community stakeholders have initiated. Additionally, a new jobs program finally got off the ground on Friday, which has the potential to offer stable employment for up to 50 Lucerne residents.

Moffett of WestCo maintains that this is not a NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) issue. “We are not a community that hasn’t accepted our fair share,” she said. “We have been cast in this terrible light. At the end of the day, all this was about was neighbors who saw a real uptick in crime and felt really unsafe on their own streets and wanted to do something about it.”

Outside of WestCo and Open Hearts, other community members have taken a stand in the debate. A coalition of clergy from neighborhood churches and synagogues issued a letter to Mayor de Blasio on Friday, calling on him to reconsider his stance and preempt the court case by postponing the forced relocation of the Lucerne residents until pandemic conditions are less dire. “You ran on a platform of addressing the “Tale of Two Cities” in New York,” they wrote. “Your decision to listen to a vocal but small group of people who have the means to hire a lawyer to address their concerns belies your stated commitment to addressing inequality in our city.”

They ended their letter with a challenge to the mayor. “We implore you to take a moral stand,” they wrote. “Change your stance and allow the men of the Lucerne to stay until it is safe for them and for our city for them to move.”

As of now, any move will result in only temporary shelter for the men of The Lucerne. Wrote DHS, “As we have said, the temporary emergency relocation hotels were always intended to be temporary and were not intended to be used in this way on an ongoing basis…at the point at which public health guidance determines that clients can be relocated back to our congregate shelters from the temporary emergency relocation sites, we will inform the community.”

NEWS | 20 comments | permalink
    1. Jane says:

      They’re not going anywhere.

      Alas.

    2. Jack says:

      Interesting how these jobs just appeared in advance of the court hearing.

      • You don’t know jack says:

        Actually it was in place ahead of time if you are following facts and timeline. It was the bogus court case created by Westco that disrupted Goddard from being able to proceed with the plan that was already in motion and had been funded.

      • Disillusioned Upper Westsider says:

        Exactly!! These homeless men have been at the Lucerne Hotel for months with no job training programs. Now all of a sudden there are jobs available???? Really?? Do they think we are that stupid and gullible not to see through this ploy???
        What about the rights of the tenants that were and have been living there before these men were installed at the hotel??? What the psychological trauma that they have sustained over these months??? Or, don’t they matter??

    3. UWSmom says:

      The Lucerne contract expired in October. Did the contract renew? Or is the city taking the property by eminent domain??? It is mindblowingly expensive either way. Shouldn’t the case revolve less around emotional/qualitative issues like whether moving is disruptive or neighbors are harmed, and instead focus on whether there is actually a contract? If there is not, how can the judge force the Lucerne to house them.

    4. Da Homeless Hero says:

      The sad thing about this article is the fact that it highlights the beef between West Co and Open Hearts and talks of the men of the Lucerne but does not showcase the men of the Lucerne speaking for themselves. If we were respected enough to speak for ourselves and not have a white savior created by the media then perhaps those who oppose us being here would have a better understanding of our plight. Speak to us and let us have a voice, a quote, a say, or something in the discussion.

    5. Da Homeless Hero says:

      DHS is lying. They never ever had services in these hotels under Project Renewal until I stepped and brought services to the Lucerne through my advocacy. The services will stop, the jobs will discontinue in this area or Goddard Riverside will have been robbed of that donation money. DHS has occupied the Radisson already. They are sneaking people in to avoid conflict with the people of FiDi… No services are there… Go check now. People are in the building… See what services they have. I told you before DHS is lying to you and in this case they continue to do so…

    6. Lucerne Burnout says:

      The whole Lucerne saga doesn’t make any sense. It is politicized like no other homeless shelter or issue in the city. Politicians wannabes line up to make empty speeches.

      It appears that the hotel downtown is better suited as it offers more facilities, single rooms, and proximity to the services they need and it is deemed to be a permanent shelter but they are fighting to stay on the UWS. It just doesn’t make any sense.

    7. ST says:

      Maya Wiley the carpetbagger. The same ilk as Helen Rosenthal, who loved to breeze into meetings late, air kiss everyone and leave early while her colleagues did all the real work. And went along with Bill DiBlasio on his every dumb, seemingly corrupt, and bad-for-the-UWS move.

    8. John B says:

      It pisses me off that i work like a DOG – without vacations, without days off to make rent each month so i can pay for my tiny studio in the neiborhood. These men get to enjoy a 5 star hotel not only for free, but at the taxpayers expense costing me further dollars. They sit around the medians and stoops all along Broadway, and await their next free meal.

    9. Newcavendish says:

      This whole saga has been grossly and needlessly exaggerated. The arguments about damage if they have to move are obvious nonsense, made up for the occasion. They would not have to move at all if the city could prove that the legitimate complaints of the UWS against noise, panhandling, drug use, inappropriate behavior, filth, etc. have been addressed. This does not have to do with inequality; it has to do with which side is best at posturing, theatrics and political maneuvering. Which is all a waste: either fix the problems and let them stay, or move them and don’t waste any more time and money on this.

    10. MAD says:

      Any news on the hearing today?

    11. Out of hand 🤚 says:

      Why are these people freaking out? It’s like they’re making it sound like they’re being thrown out to the streets. I happen to know that hotel on Williams Street downtown and it is better suited as it offers NEW and more facilities, single rooms, etc.

      • HelenD says:

        What I don’t understand is how people from the shelter have computer access and even social media accounts. If this is possible then why can’t we get a computer and internet access for every kid who needs one for school?

    12. Ian Alterman says:

      WestCo and the three local residents were refused “standing” in the case, so only the single Lucerne resident who wants to move is being represented by Mr. Mastro. And that resident’s Affidavit is extremely weak.

      Besides, WestCo’s two arguments have been thoroughly debunked at this point. Re their “quality of life” and “conditions” argument, all of that has been addressed and has not existed for weeks, if not months. Second, their argument about “better” or “more” services at the downtown facility is also a red herring, since it is simply not true; they will actually LOSE services by going down there. This is confirmed by the service provider and the men themselves, who know better than anyone else.

      At this point – over three months in – the facility has been integrated into the neighborhood, there are no “conditions” issues being caused by them, and they are getting enormously robust services, both internal from the provider, and external from groups like Open Hearts and Goddard Riverside.

      There is no compelling reason to have them move during the new height of the pandemic. They are safe where they are; let them stay.

    13. Lee no Elle says:

      The is a way to help even more homeless people: stop using expensive hotels that are $175PP and find either cheaper hotels near the airport (the men who work, which is a handful, can commute just like everyone else). The program shouldn’t end. It just shouldn’t be in an expensive neighrbhood. Or; let the hotel owners give them a steel discount. But all we have here is a case of misguided NIMBY accusations that should really be directed at the GREEDY HOTEL OWNERS! End corporate welfare and leave regular upper west Siders ALONE

    14. Those who trivialize or dismiss the trauma that shelter transfers inflict on the homeless (as in comments #9 and 11 above) should read this very eloquent op-ed by Da @homeless_hero, which describes the trauma the Mayor’s announcement of his decision to transfer #HotelLucerne men caused.
      https://citylimits.org/2020/10/13/opinion-citys-move-to-vacate-uws-hotel-shelter-is-adding-trauma-on-top-of-trauma-resident-says/