Candidates ‘Stand With Shams’ As UWS Homeless Controversy Takes a New Twist

Shams DaBaron, a.k.a. Da Homeless Hero, center.

By Carol Tannenhauser

Shams DaBaron, who used to be homeless, stood in the sunlight before a statue of Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. at West 125th Street on Friday. DaBaron was flanked by others still experiencing homelessness, supporters, and politicians, including two mayoral candidates. He was there to register his outrage at having been “violated” by two private investigators, formerly NYPD officers, who he says entered his new apartment, posing as plumbers, and surreptitiously photographed him shirtless. They were sent to confirm that he had moved out of The Lucerne hotel/homeless shelter, he contended, either directly or indirectly by Mayor Bill de Blasio.

In fact, it was lawyer Randy Mastro, who hired the private eyes. Mastro has been representing a local group trying to oust the homeless residents from The Lucerne. The P.I.s went to DaBaron’s home to verify that he lives there now, and not at the Lucerne. In a pending lawsuit, Mastro’s central contention is that all of the plaintiffs fighting the city to stay at The Lucerne have now been placed in permanent housing, and thus they no longer have standing in court, i.e., the right to sue. If so, the city’s plan to move the homeless men can proceed, he argues. (DaBaron’s legal name is Ramone Buford.)

”What really went on here is that Mr. Buford and his lawyer didn’t want to admit to the Court that he had moved out of the Lucerne because they knew that would require dismissal of his case as moot,” Mastro said, in a statement to the Rag. “In opposing our motion to dismiss based on press reports of Mr. Buford’s move, his lawyer ludicrously claimed he’d been unable to reach his high-profile client for weeks (despite tweeting with him) and challenged the sufficiency of our evidence as ‘hearsay.’ So, we were forced to bear the burden of having to obtain direct evidence that Mr. Buford is now living elsewhere because he and his lawyer wouldn’t admit that fact. That they have orchestrated this elaborate cover story and PR campaign cannot obscure the fact that Mr. Buford no longer has standing to maintain this lawsuit to keep men at the Lucerne when he no longer lives there himself, so his case must now be dismissed.”

But DaBaron’s supporters see it very differently. “It’s outrageous…egregious…a violation of human rights. I stand with Shams!” some shouted at the press conference.

The Lucerne.

The saga of The Lucerne started in July 2020, when 283 men experiencing homelessness, many with mental illness and addiction problems, were transferred by the NYC Department of Homeless Services (DHS) to The Lucerne, a four-star boutique hotel on the northwest corner of West 79th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. Earlier that summer, two other UWS boutique hotels — the Belleclaire, on 77th Street and Broadway, and The Belnord, on 87th between Amsterdam and Broadway — were also booked by the city to serve as temporary shelters, because traditional congregate shelters made social distancing impossible and were potential COVID-19 hotspots.

The Lucerne, the third “homeless hotel” within a 10-block radius, was the tipping point. Complaints in the neighborhood multiplied as did lurid descriptions of intolerable behaviors in the streets, though they could not always be tied definitively to the men of The Lucerne. Two homegrown organizations emerged: West Side Community Organization (WestCo), which quickly raised over $100,000 to hire Randy Mastro, who had been a deputy mayor under Rudy Giuliani and represented de Blasio in the past, to get the men out of The Lucerne, saying they lacked services there and were destroying the neighborhood; and UWS Open Hearts Initiative (Open Hearts) which advocated for the men to stay, arranging for social services for them, and even paid jobs.

Inevitably, they ended up in court.

In the meantime, DaBaron had become a leader. His voice was first heard in WSR’s comment section, anonymously. Eventually, he revealed himself as Da Homeless Hero, a.k.a. Shams DaBaron, and evolved into a voice and advocate for the men of The Lucerne and all New Yorkers experiencing homelessness. He even helped organize a first-of-its-kind mayoral forum on homelessness where people experiencing homelessness got to grill the candidates.

DaBaron also became a plaintiff in the lawsuit challenging the city’s right to move the men. After months of deliberations, decisions, and reversals, the case is due to be decided in May. Mastro filed a motion in late March to dismiss the case now, based upon reports that DaBaron had moved out of the Lucerne. To prove it, he hired the P.I.s.

DaBaron’s lawyer, Michael Hiller, was unavailable for comment. He has maintained that he was unable to reach his client and so didn’t know he had moved out.

DaBaron and Mayoral candidate Maya Wiley; Corinne Low (right).

Open Hearts seized upon the alleged violation of DaBaron’s rights and, possibly, the law. “It’s trespassing, it’s trespassing,” Corinne Low yelled, at the rally. “It’s trespassing. Wooo!” Low is the Co-founder of Open Hearts. Though well-attended by the media, the event had more of the feel of a rally, with Low in charge. First the politicians spoke: Mayoral candidate Maya Wiley, Borough President candidate Lindsey Boylan, and local City Council candidate Sara Lind among them. They raised their fists and said, “I stand with Shams,” hugged him, whispered to him, and left.

Harlem residents also spoke out.

Then, Harlem community leaders spoke their minds. “It’s amazing how the politicians come out for the photo ops, but don’t stay around to hear us speak,” one woman said. “I’m kind of fucking annoyed that we have the community voices after they’re gone,” said a man. “We’re tired of being pimped by people who claim to want our vote, need our vote, but don’t hang around to listen,” the woman added. They spoke about “restitution” for Shams, the need for affordable housing, ending homelessness and abolishing white supremacy, and defunding the police, which one man called “the legacy of slave patrols.”

The court should rule soon on whether the city will be allowed to move the men of the Lucerne to another hotel/shelter in the Financial District, which is what the city has planned for them. A community group down there is already suing to stop it. Precedents will be set no matter who wins the case. In prior interviews with the Rag, Randy Mastro said, “I think it would be a devastating precedent if homeless individuals can go to court to force the city to temporarily house them in the venue of their choice.”

”I argue against the dangerous precedent that would be set if we were to lose,” Michael Hiller said previously, “namely, that a group of wealthy neighbors can hire a politically connected lawyer and forcibly evict homeless residents from their community.”

We will keep you posted.

NEWS | 61 comments | permalink
    1. Susan says:

      Maya Wiley just lost my vote.

    2. soldier says:

      Looks like the no-longer-homeless person pretends to still be homeless, aka running a con with Maya Wiley’s help. Mayoral candidate indeed lol

    3. Newcavendish says:

      So Bleak House continues, no doubt at great expense to the City. If they have in fact moved out, as seems to be the case, then there’s no issue about the Lucerne. It is misleading and disingenuous to associate the matter of whether the detectives behaved correctly from the issue of the use of the Lucerne and the other hotels for this purpose. It sounds as though he has a complaint there, but it’s a strictly limited one and there’s no need for all the Storm and Stress about the Lucerne in this instance.

    4. DAVID KLEINBERG-LEVIN says:

      The homeless men in The Lucerne need to be, and deserve to be, appropriately lodged and sheltered ELSEWHERE. This hotel is not at all appropriate.

      • World Peacenik says:

        Interestingly this is the deceptive arguement made by West Side Community Organization (WestCo), but of course it is NOT that this is all goodill for the benefit of the men. If there were a full service facility waiting empty for these men to move to it would be great. But we don’t have any because people with money just don’t want these men in their neighborhood, they don’t want to provide the services that these men need.
        So don’t make the disingenuous arguement that its better services that need to be provided, because that could be done by West Side Community Organization (WestCo), just as it is honorably being done by Open Hearts. WestCo would rather spend enormous amouts of money fighting these men, rather than a dime to help them.

    5. Judy B. says:

      I’m confused. I thought this was well-known. Didn’t the West Side Rag have an article about how Da Homeless Hero moved out of the Lucerne? The entry was originally posted February 22, 2021, but for some reason is deleted (which is also very confusing).

      • ben says:

        I distinctly remember reading that article (couldn’t remember the date though). So it’s even more confusing that the article was deleted and this comment was published. WSR might want to shed some light on the publication/retraction situation?

      • Leon says:

        Thank you for doing the research on this. Could WSR address this question?

        This argument that Mr. DaBaron’s (or whatever his name is) lawyer didn’t know where he was really hurts their credibility.

        I was unlikely to vote for any of these politicians but their presence at this rally confirmed that decision.

        • West Sider says:

          Yes, we had gotten a tip that Shams had moved out. He initially seemed to confirm it, then withdrew his confirmation and we were unable to confirm it through DHS and others. That’s why the post was removed, with a note. WSR

          • UWS Dad says:

            “He initially seemed to confirm it, then withdrew his confirmation…”

            Sounds like someone told him not to say anything….

    6. Bob Lamm says:

      Solidarity with Shams. Randy Mastro just sinks lower and lower.

      • Boris says:

        Tell us how Randy Mastro did anything inappropriate or illegal. Your credibility suffers when you oppose every single thing done against the way you want things to be.

        • Bruce Bernstein says:

          reply to BOris:

          You don’t think Mastro and WestCo did anything inappropriate? You don’t think sending private investigators, under false pretenses, INTO Sham’s house and taking pictures of him without permission was inappropriate? It was grossly inappropriate.

          I would like to see how you would feel if this was done to you.

          The idea that it was a secret from the Court where Sham was living is laughable. DHS PLACED HIM in the apartment. Sham has no obligation to tell the general public where he lives, and i can see how he might not want to, considering all the hate that’s out there.

          • Boris says:

            Are you really that naïve about what’s legally permissible? It’s humorous that you would think Mastro doesn’t know the law and/or would risk legal action by not following proper procedures. Your standard of ‘appropriateness’ doesn’t apply just because you don’t like the outcome.

            As to whether I would like this done to me, that’s a moot point because I wouldn’t have let them past the front door. This guy didn’t seem to mind all the previous pictures and publicity of himself but now it’s scandalous? Did he give his explicit permission before?

            • Bruce Bernstein says:

              reply to Boris:

              it might or might not be legal. i am not an expert in privacy law, and i doubt you are either. There seem to be some people on this site who think the photo was illegal and who know about that aspect of law.

              but there was no question it was outrageous, inappropriate, and sleazy. and it was harassment.

              It’s good that you feel YOU wouldn’t have let the people in. But apparently you have a very hard time putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.

              The fact that Sham was photographed at rallies and public events has NOTHING to do with whether his home can be violated. That was a ludicrous argument.

              you, sir, have a double standard.

    7. neighbor says:

      So DaBaron moved out – why does he lie that he did not move out? Mayoral candidate(s) promoting his lie should be weird/disqualifying, no?

      • Da Homeless Hero says:

        If you can prove that I lied about moving out, I got a $1,000 for you. Where do you see me indicating anything about my moving out of the Lucerne. Show me proof.

        • blacklikeu says:

          Life sure took a nice turn for you dude.
          Now you have an extra $1,000.00 to bet with.
          Cheers

        • Boris says:

          How about you prove that you didn’t? Let’s meet at the Lucerne and see if they give you access to a room.

    8. Ha! Business as usual. Extremely well-covered & written, Carol!

      ” …the event had more of the feel of a rally, with Low in charge. First the politicians spoke: Mayor candidate Maya Wiley, Borough President candidate Lindsey Boylan, and local City Council candidate Sara Lind among them. They raised their fists and said, “I stand with Shams,” hugged him, whispered to him, and left.”

      “It’s amazing how the politicians come out for the photo ops, but don’t stay around to hear us speak,” one woman said. “I’m kind of fucking annoyed that we have the community voices after they’re gone,” said a man. “We’re tired of being pimped by people who claim to want our vote, need our vote, but don’t hang around to listen,” the woman added…”

    9. 40 year UWS resident says:

      The larger issue is appropriate treatment for the population which includes mental health issues, addictions, joblessness, isolation etc. which produced homelessness in the first place. People with means get help in expensive treatment centers-so can the population like the Lucerne. There are many vacant hotels and convention centers in th Catskills which could be converted to address all the isuues including providing job training, recreation, treatment, etc.
      If the hotel population was placed because of Covid why haven’t they been vaccinated?
      There have been questionable tactics on both sides. Has anyone solved who desecrated Randy Maestro’s home? What happens to all the people who have witnessed drug use, public lewdness, assaults in the neighborhood?
      Again, I like Shams and feel for him but the hotels are not the solution. The temporary residents of these hotels are not getting the help they need and the city is going bankrupt.
      And my taxpaying grown children are moving away as thy can no longer afford to live here,

      • World Peacenik says:

        I am sympathetic to your children’s dilemna, as I am in the same situation as you, but please, that has nothing to do with these men at the Lucerne, who need a safe place to live.

        I assure you that these men are not causing housing in our neighborhood to become unaffordable to our children. You would be getting closer to the truth if you looked at their opponents.

      • Lisa says:

        Can someone explain to me why “services”, whatever those are, have to be provided on-site? Isn’t the problem that a significant number of the men in these hotels and shelters aren’t interested in adopting a different way of life? Those who do wish to acquire new habits and skills have some decent options. Did you know NYC provides free detox and rehab? Yup. Problem is: NYC is one of the easiest places to maintain yourself as an active addict, which makes returning to using extremely tempting. Run out of money? It’s socially acceptable in NYC to panhandle. And the prevailing wisdom among the professional homeless advocate class is that becoming housed should not be tied to sobriety (or specific behavioral standards) because it “doesn’t work”. In my opinion, most of the time, this sets people up for failure, because the employment world doesn’t work that way. It’s time to ask – and expect – more of people. Unconditional love does not mean letting someone take advantage of your generosity.

    10. Leenie says:

      The homeless men and women were moved into the hotels as a means to keep them safe during the pandemic—can they now be vaccinated and return to the shelters?

    11. UWSconcerned says:

      So a group of men who were provided free housing at a luxury hotel because of pandemic concerns want to continue their suit to stay at the hotel even though they no longer live there and have since been provided permanent housing? It seems strange that mayoral candidates would be encouraging these men to lie about where they live. By the way, if vaccines work as hoped and case counts become deminimis is all of this moot or will the Lucerne residents (and apparently former Lucerne residents) still be seeking to remain being housed at the Lucerne?

      • World Peacenik says:

        Let’s hope that “vaccines work as hoped and case counts become deminimis”, then would be the proper time for remaining Lucerne residents to move.

    12. Will says:

      The joke is that the hotel ever being considered “luxury” and the neighborhood around it too. It was an SRO for a long time and that’s the best function for a lot of these “hotels” until real long term housing can be built. Yes at the expense of the tax payer, including all of the condo owners who regularly complain. I stand with Shams

      • World Peacenik says:

        The gentrification of the Lucerne and the surrounding area resulted in weathier people moving in and displacing the previous poorer residents. Now the same people who kicked the poor to the curb complain about their condition, including homelessness. Talk about blaming the victim!

        It is time to take responsibility, and that starts with accepting these people into our neighborhood, and continues with building new affordable housing here too.

    13. ben says:

      I can barely keep up with his name changes. From a branding point of view, it might be best to stick to this name for a while…

    14. World Peacenik says:

      West Side Community Organization (WestCo) and their Randy Mastro have disgraced our neighborhood from their start. They are acting more outrageous by the day. Sending their mercenaries to hunt down a man in his own home is beyond the pale. Can you even conceive of the reaction to any of the men from the Lucerne hunting WestCo members in their homes to validate their standing?

      • UWSers sees through Shams’ sham says:

        The members of WestCo are lying—to the court or anyone else — about where they live, not asking to be supported with public funds. Therefore, there’s no need for anyone to track them down and expose their nonexistent lies.

    15. Scott says:

      It’s all a sham.

      • Cj berk says:

        Yes Scott it’s all a sham. These Hotels, along with DHS and various “Open Hearts” and Political hopefuls made a deal with the devil and here we are in neighborhood hell. Endless articles, too many words, the homeless STILL wandering around and living on UWS streets or Hotels. Empty stores, garbage all over, abusive panhandlers of all races (don’t anyone dare play that card) and intruder Maya Wiley hanging around hugging protesters. We are living in a
        once great, now slum neighborhood. The store now called Fairway could never exist with their garbage/merchandise/pallets etc. All over our streets. What has happened here and who will fix it? My building has emptied out and we are trying to sell and go to the UES or downtown. NYC isn’t over but the Upper West Side is.

    16. Even if Shams DaBaron aka Da Homeless Hero has moved out of the Lucerne, that doesn’t mean all its residents have. Indeed, the City may have found housing for him not to improve his well-being, but to have the case dismissed on that basis. The DHS is known for doing various tricks to “moot” cases it can’t win. The judge should not fall for this, but continue the suit out of concern for the men who still remain at the three hotels, and certify it as a class action, if she hasn’t already. She should also sanction WestCo and Randy Mastro and order them to pay significant restitution to Shams.

      Readers should also not fall for the repeated mischaracterizations of the men’s position. They aren’t trying to “choose” a shelter; they oppose an inappropriate shelter the City chose for them.

    17. Anita says:

      It sickens me to see the number of entitled, selfish people on the upper west who don’t give a damn about the homeless. If the homeless need more services, then why not organize to get them services instead of trying to run them out of the neighborhood? Isn’t it all about racism? We need to educate ourselves about the policies and systems that force so many black and brown people into homelessness. Then we have to fight to change those policies and in the process, change ourselves.

      • Gerri vali says:

        I never cared for the UWS libs. However, the homeless at the Lucerne were dumped in their nabe from another part of the city . The anti-social behavior of some of them would upset any resident. As far as race goes, just a coincidence. Anyone can become homeless, I write from personal experience with my spouse.

    18. UWSer says:

      Thank you Carol Tannenhauser for continuing your streak of solid reporting on local issues. You captured the important details that get left out when people try to sensationalize the Lucerne Story. The assertion that Hiller could not reach his client and the fact that he refused to confirm that he has moved out stretches the boundary of credulity. It is also telling that politicians had just enough time to get themselves into the press but not enough to listen to what anybody else said. And no surprise that, as usual, it was Low running the show and using Shams as her puppet. I hope he can move on from this and build a life beyond his experience as an individual experiencing homelessness, even if that leaves Low with no ammunition for more press conferences.

    19. Katherine says:

      Living in a luxury boutique hotel of one’s choosing with three meals a day all paid for by the taxpayer is NOT a human right.

    20. Rob G. says:

      The Upper West Side is like the kid at school that has a “Kick Me” sign taped to his butt. Only in this case, the bullies are our own politicians and representatives!

      • chris w says:

        @RobG. Totally agree with you. They cannot fall over themselves fast enough to go against what their constituents want. And by constituents, I do NOT mean the people shipped in from other shelters around the city.

    21. ST says:

      Maya Wiley is a carpetbagger IMO. Too desperate for power. Give me someone with a true desire to serve all the people of the city.

    22. James says:

      Hmmmm. Interesting turn here. You do not violate someone’s rights by going in their apartment and taking pictures of them. You can be on either side of the fence about the Lucerne- for or against- but when a high powered attorney and the people he represents stoop to such low tactics that is not a good thing. They should be held accountable and I’m sure they will be. And the contract at the Lucerne is up soon so all that money spent and fighting them is for nothing.

      • Boris says:

        What’s the violation of rights? They didn’t break in; he let them into the apartment. It’s irrelevant that they duped him by posing as someone else. He was under no obligation to allow them access. I don’t suppose you’re a lawyer but Randy Mastro is a very good one and wouldn’t present pictures to the Court if that would implicate him in a crime. Dial back the outrage.

        • Robert O Johnson says:

          Actually Boris your wrong. They are not allowed to take photos in a private home of someone without the knowledge of that person.

          • Boris says:

            You’re absolutely wrong. It’s legal for anyone to take pictures wherever they have a legal right to be except where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. Unless the owner asked them not to take pictures in advance.

            • Peter says:

              Boris – When the plumber, delivery person, super, doctor, nanny or whoever else you invite enters your home for their stated legitimate purpose, do you always ask them in advance NOT to surreptitiously take pictures?

              That must be such fun.

            • Boris says:

              @Peter – That’s the law. Whether it’s practical to implement is irrelevant to this discussion. The issues that were raised concern legality and appropriateness.

              I have a lot of familiarity with NDA’s so I can’t be convinced that prior notification by individuals seeking privacy is rare. Just maybe not in your world.

            • Bruce Bernstein says:

              Boris:

              Do you understand the difference between a business NDA and sending spies to invade the home of a private individual?

              please, have some common sense.

    23. Janna says:

      Was there ever an investigation into who desecrated Randy Maestro’s residence?

      • Bruce Bernstein says:

        “desecrated” Randy Mastro’s residence? what is it, a temple?

        • Peter says:

          To him, it may well be. What’s your problem with that?

          • Robert O Johnson says:

            There is no justification for entering someone’s private home and photographing them. Especially when they can get the information needed through public records. I would not be surprised to see a big lawsuit on its way.

    24. UWSer says:

      Thank you for your level headed, continued coverage of this issue, Carol.

      I continue to welcome our neighbors and stand with UWS Open Hearts.

    25. Senior says:

      So can Shams get into legal trouble for misrepresenting his residence? Can he lose his new affordable housing while his lawyer Mr. Hiller and the Open Hearts representatives can go back to their comfortable homes? It seems to me that he is in a very vulnerable position here.

      • Da Homeless Hero says:

        While West Co and the group that supports them may have tons of money to waste, I still hold that they are wasting their money on Randy Mastro who has lost every court proceeding to date. It’s 8 months and the Lucerne is still operating. My advocacy has led to over 160 people being placed in permanent supportive housing instead of another hotel. That includes the one client that Mastro represented. What is going to happen in the coming weeks is that the remaining population of the Lucerne will return to the congregate shelters and the Lucerne will be closed.

      • Da Homeless Hero says:

        And thank you for your inquiry. I am indeed in a very, very vulnerable situation in terms of my safety. I’m okay by the law but safety-wise I’ve been put at risk.

        • blacklikeu says:

          That’s what publicity and fame can do to anyone.
          From a faceless homeless to a homeless hero all over the news.
          Maybe life was better when no one knew who you are.
          Cheers

          • Da Homeless Hero says:

            You got a point there… lol!!! The real thing is when kids are inspired me and other directly impacted people are inspired by me and feel that they can advocate for themselves and get better treatment. As challenging as this is, the reality is that I can always feel good about impacting and inspiring people in a positive way. it is the price that must be paid, but I’d rather pay it doing good than doing bad. I appreciate your truth.

            • blacklikeu says:

              I like your reply – a lot.
              One piece of advice:
              Stay away from all politicians.
              They will try to use your new found fame for their own interest, and once they gain more status, they’ll leave you behind.
              That’s the nature of politics, local and national.
              Good luck DHH and cheers.