By Carol Tannenhauser
The city has stopped transferring homeless people back to congregate shelters from the commercial hotels they have been staying in during the pandemic, until a motion filed by the Legal Aid Society is decided in court this Tuesday, according to Joshua Goldfein, a staff attorney for Legal Aid.
Congregate shelters typically house 10-20 people in one room, according to The New York Times.
The transfers started this month. Legal Aid contends that the way they were carried out “violated a standing court order requiring the city to accommodate people’s disabilities in the shelter system,” Goldfein said. “About two-thirds of the single adults in the shelter system have some kind of disability that would have to be considered when placing them. The point of the case is not to keep the hotels open forever. It just means the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) has to go back and review the cases and make sure they are placing people in settings that are appropriate for them.”
Isaac McGinn, a spokesman for DHS, said 23 of more than 60 hotels have already been emptied. “We will review the specific allegations and related cases referenced in the suit,” he stated in an email. “That said, we developed a comprehensive Reasonable Accommodation process, which was agreed to in a court settlement, giving providers and clients advance notice ahead of moves — including back in May — so that clients could work with providers to request accommodations as needed.”
For whatever reason, Brian Lucas wasn’t granted an accommodation. “I feel kind of bad about moving,” he said, as he was about to board a bus in front of The Lucerne, last week. “Cause we goin’ back into the shelter. We’re goin’ to be right next to people. I’ve been here a year already and I haven’t got my housing. I’m disabled. I can’t work. I don’t really know what’s holding it up.”
About 8,000 people were moved to hotels throughout the city when the lockdown began in the spring of 2020, in an effort to protect them from the coronavirus and avert any potential super-spreader situations. A month ago, when the CDC lifted COVID restrictions, the mayor announced, “It is time to move homeless folks who were in hotels for a temporary period of time back to shelters where they can get the support they need.”
Homeless people and advocates say it is premature, considering the appearance of the Delta variant, and the fact that the percentage of homeless people vaccinated is not known, but estimated to be low, around 21.5 percent, according to City Limits.
Goldfein says the moves were implemented “hastily,” and doesn’t hesitate to point a finger. “There was only one person who was in a hurry here, and it’s the mayor. I think he wanted to have a parade, and he wanted to say that it’s over, and he wanted to get people out of the hotels, because — as you saw on the Upper West Side — a lot of people are calling City Hall and complaining.”
The pause in the moves came too late for the men staying at The Lucerne and The Belnord Hotel, who were transferred back to congregate shelters last week. The men and women in the Hotel Belleclaire, on West 77th Street and Broadway, have not yet been moved, and Goldfein says, “the schedule is up in the air right now.”