A shocking story is unfolding at one city school being used as an evacuation center. Lunchroom floors are being used as bathrooms and liquor is on public display. When school opens Monday, students in the building will be arriving to find they're sharing space with hundreds of homeless adults. NY1's Lindsey Christ filed the following report.
Outside a high school building on West 49th Street, it smelled like marijuana. Inside, it smelled like a sewer. The stench was so horrible, even police officers wore masks.
For now, it's an evacuation shelter, but the plan for Monday is that it will also be a school.
When teachers walked in Friday, they were horrified.
"I was appalled at what I saw," said Alice O'Neil, a teachers' union representative. "I saw what is essentially an 1,100-person homeless shelter."
One man is captured on cell phone video urinating into a water fountain. A few feet away, there's human feces under a table in the crowded lunchroom. Upstairs, six of the seven floors have cots lining every hallway.
Some classrooms are labeled "for families," but there were no security checks, either at the main entrance or between the children and single adult residents. Many of the bathrooms were out of order. Volunteers said clothing was flushed down toilets. NY1 saw empty alcohol bottles.
"Honestly, I believe that it is worse than any of the homeless shelters out there," said one person.
Many, if not most, of the people staying in the shelter said they were homeless. Some were sympathetic to teachers' concerns over opening school at the same site.
"Now, I understand that you don't want your kids in a building with people that have records," said one person. "That's understandable. But where does the people like me go?"
"I think they should leave the school open for us because we need it," said another. "We're going through a really tough time and we need this."
There are also concerns over space.
"Like a can, like a tuna in a can," said one person. "We're too cramped up. There's no space. There's no space there."
Both the Commissioner of Homeless Services and the Schools Chancellor told NY1 things would be safe and sanitary for students and teachers.
"We're making sure that our students and our staff are safe and that they have sanitary conditions, and I have a high standard along that line," said Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott.
The building normally houses four schools and nearly 2,000 students. The city tried to close down the main school, the High School for Graphic Communication Arts, this summer.
Since then, teachers have said it has been chaotic, but they said conditions in the school Friday were horrific. They can't imagine where or how they'll hold class Monday.