New York City plans to move around 8,000 homeless people from hotel rooms and return to barrack-like dormitories by the end of July so that hotels can reopen to the general public, the mayor said on Wednesday. Bill de Blasio.
When the pandemic lockdown began last spring, New York City moved people out of shelters, where in some cases up to 60 adults remained in one room, to protect them from the coronavirus. Now, with the lifting of social distancing restrictions and an economic recovery in play, the city is eager to fill those hotel rooms with tourists.
“It is time to move the homeless who were in hotels for a temporary period to shelters where they can get the support they need,” de Blasio said at a morning press conference.
The mayor said the city would need state approval to remove the homeless from 60 hotels, but a spokesman for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said as long as all residents of the shelters – even vaccinated – wore masks, the state had no objection to the regime.
“The governor has lifted the social distancing restrictions, so now people just have to follow the CDC’s guidelines on masks,” spokesman Rich Azzopardi said.
On Tuesday, Mr Cuomo announced that the state was lifting almost all remaining restrictions on coronaviruses and social distancing measures, after more than 70% of adults in the state received at least a first dose of a vaccine .
It was not known when the city would go ahead with its plan. When asked when people would be returned to shelters, a spokesperson for the city’s homeless services department said the agency still believed it needed the approval of the State.
The announcement marks the beginning of the end of a lifestyle popular with many homeless people, many of whom said a private hotel room was a much better living experience than sleeping in a shelter. Some have said they would rather live on the streets than return to a group shelter, where many residents struggle with mental illness or addiction or both.
“I don’t want to go back – it’s like I’m stepping back,” Andrew Ward, 39, who is staying at the Williams Hotel in Brownsville, Brooklyn, said Wednesday afternoon after nearly two years in a shelter. for men nearby. . “It’s not safe to go back. You have people bringing knives. He said he had his belongings stolen countless times at the shelter.
At the hotel, he said: “It’s calm. It’s less stressful. He said that if he was transferred to a collective shelter again, “I would stay on the street as before.”
But the arrangement at hotels, many of which are located in densely populated upper-middle-class Manhattan neighborhoods, has been a source of friction with neighbors who have complained about noise, outdoor drug use and other nuisances and dangers of the hotel. residents.
The city’s decision last year to move nearly 300 people from a shelter on an island off Manhattan to the Lucerne Hotel on the Upper West Side sparked a months-long battle. Earlier this month, a state appeals court ruled the city can move people out of the hotel.
The mayor has said for months that the hotels were never intended to be permanent accommodation and that he wanted to get people out of them as soon as it was safe. But some homeless advocates noted that the Federal Emergency Management Agency offered to pay for hotel rooms until the end of September and called Wednesday’s announcement premature.
In a small protest outside Gracie Mansion, the mayor’s residence, on Monday, homeless people and organizers from the advocacy group Vocal-NY demanded that the homeless stay in hotels until they can. be offered permanent apartments.
“Why rush to get us back to the shelters now?” Said Milton Perez, 45, who spent five years in the shelter system. “Why this haste to put us in danger?” “
The coronavirus has hit residents of the city’s shelters hard. More than 3,700 people in the city’s main shelter system have contracted the virus and 102 have died from it, according to the city.
During the pandemic, some assembly shelters were closed entirely. Others moved most of the people to create more space, but stayed open.
Advocates have noted that vaccination rates for the homeless may be much lower than for the general population. The city said about 6,300 single homeless adults had been fully vaccinated through homelessness services sites, although it did not know how many had been vaccinated elsewhere. Over 17,000 single adults are accommodated in the main accommodation system.
About 65% of adults in New York City have received at least a first dose of a vaccine.
“There are people who sleep in shelters who always test positive and get sick,” Giselle Routhier, policy director of the Coalition for the Homeless, said Wednesday. “Until permanent affordable housing can be obtained, the safest option remains placement in hotel rooms.”
Ms Routhier also took issue with Mr de Blasio’s implication that people were not receiving the social services they needed in hotels. In fact, several shelter operators have said in interviews over the past few weeks that they have found ways to offer many of the same treatment and counseling services in hotels.
When the city moved to move people to hotel rooms last spring, many shelter operators feared many residents would fall prey to drug addiction or withdraw from social supports that were keeping their mental health from declining.
The actual results have been mixed. Some shelters have seen an increase in overdoses, but others have seen reductions and reported that removing sources of stress appeared to have improved the mental health of many people, resulting in fewer fights between residents.
“We’ve had a lot fewer incidents, ”said Andrea Kepler, the former manager of a BronxWorks shelter in the Bronx who moved en masse to the OYO Times Square hotel, where every room had a microwave and a microwave. refrigerator and maid services. She said more people are following curfews at the hotel because they don’t want to lose their seats.
“Basically, it’s not science,” she said. “It’s really about doing basic human things that we would all want for ourselves.”