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City Will Relocate Homeless from Upper West Side Lucerne Hotel
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City Will Relocate Homeless from Upper West Side Lucerne Hotel

Some Jewish residents of the neighborhood express relief in wake of the decision.

Hannah Dreyfus is a staff writer at the New York Jewish Week. She covers abuses of power in non-profit and religious settings. She heads up the Investigative Journalism Fund, an initiative to fill a gap in investigative and enterprise reporting. Reach her at hannah@jewishweek.org

The Lucerne Hotel on W. 79th St. in  Manhattan was converted into a homeless shelter during the Covid-19 crisis. (Upper West Siders for Safer Streets)
The Lucerne Hotel on W. 79th St. in Manhattan was converted into a homeless shelter during the Covid-19 crisis. (Upper West Siders for Safer Streets)

Critics of Upper West Side hotel converted into a homeless shelter during the coronavirus pandemic breathed a sigh of relief after the city announced homeless individuals will be relocated from the Lucerne Hotel to a traditional shelter.

“You’re not hearing many local voices arguing on Facebook that this is the wrong move to make,” said area resident Shachar Benjamin, 28, a risk manager who is active with Jewish life in the neighborhood.

The conversion of three hotels on the Upper West Side into temporary homeless shelters over the summer sparked an uproar among local residents, including members of the area’s populous Jewish community. Critics said the shelters brought crime, drug use and vagrancy to the neighborhood. Defenders said early problems had been addressed and the opposition smelled of “NIMBYism.”

City officials announced on Tuesday that the 300 residents temporarily placed in the Lucerne Hotel will be moved back into traditional shelter facilities as early as next week. The Lucerne is owned by Sam Domb, a major Jewish philanthropist and part time resident of the Upper West Side, who last month said he wouldn’t renew his contract with the city.

“We’re beginning to relocate individuals from several commercial hotel locations to alternative non-congregate shelter locations, where we can continue to implement social distancing and provide isolation,” Department of Homeless Services spokesman Isaac McGinn said in a statement. Homeless individuals will also be moved out of the LIC Plaza Hotel in Queens, officials said.

With the Jewish High Holidays beginning next week, Rabbi Daniel Sherman of West Side Institutional Synagogue, a large Modern Orthodox congregation in the neighborhood, said congregants are “satisfied with the result.”

“With school starting, people are returning to the city. They are entitled to know it’s safe,” he said, adding that he hopes the City provides the homeless with the “care and services they need and deserve.”

Randy Mastro, the lawyer representing the group of Upper West Side residents threatening to sue the city over the placement of homeless people in the neighborhood, expressed appreciation for the move.

“On behalf of the West Side Community Organization, which I am honored to represent, we appreciate that the City—at our urging—will be immediately taking concrete steps to address the chaos that reached a crisis point over the past several weeks when the City relocated hundreds of homeless individuals into the Lucerne Hotel, many of whom suffered from mental illness, addiction and other serious problems,” Mastro said in a statement.

Not everyone on the Upper West Side welcomed the decision.

“It’s a sad day when the threat of lawsuit gets city hall to reverse a decision,” tweeted Helen Rosenthal, who represents the area on the City Council. “What message does this send that groups who can afford to hire high-powered lawyers R the ones who will get their way?”

Rosenthal shared tweets from other area residents who support the temporary shelters, saying her inbox was filling up with complaints.

UWS Open Hearts, a group organized to show support for the shelters, organized a news conference Wednesday to oppose the decision to close the emergency shelter.

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