NEW YORK - For weeks, residents of the Upper West Side have complained about homeless people in their neighborhood. They have circulated photos on social media allegedly depicting people living on the street.
But it's three hotels that have created a lot of the controversy.
On Monday night, the local community board had its first public forum on the use of these hotels to house homeless people during the pandemic to protect them from the spread of the coronavirus.
It was on Zoom and attracted more than 1,100 people. Shelter operators now tasked with running the hotels defended the operations.
Elected officials criticized the lack of notice.
“I am upset, because if in fact the city moves people into hotels without telling the community, then we can't plan,” Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said. "And I understand you don’t want to be told ‘No, you’re not going to go into the hotel,' but you got to plan."
Planning is not what some residents say happened. They blasted the state of their neighborhood.
While officials spoke, comments flew in on the side of the Zoom screen. Some said they supported the hotels. Many said they did not. They questioned whether crime was going up, and whether sex offenders were occupying rooms. One person publicly worried about property value.
Some urged compassion.
“Evidence based studies have established that shame and stigma impede recovery from addiction and mental health disorders,” said Melissa Sanchez, a member of the Upper West Side Open Hearts Initiative.
Moments later, an opponent countered.
“In the span of a few months, our community has fallen prey to a number of incidents that we have not experienced on the Upper West Side in recent memory, such as unprovoked attacks and vandalism to residents' cars and local businesses,” said Lorena Matus of the Upper West Siders for Safer Streets.
Last week, some residents formed a nonprofit organization called the West Side Community Organization. They have raised thousands of dollars and have hired an attorney. They are considering legal action.
“We want to communicate to the city that this is not OK,” said Alison Morpurgo, a co-founder of the West Side Community Organization. "We’re not just OK with sacrificing safety, and we’re not OK watching people struggle when they need better services.”
The NYPD told residents it had increased foot patrols in the neighborhood. Officials said there have been three arrests at one hotel, the Lucerne, since it was converted to a shelter in late July.
Last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio said it was time to start exploring whether the Department of Homeless Services could start moving back to the original shelters. Those shelters are often dorms with upwards of 20 beds per room.
An official from the Department of Homeless Services reiterated Monday night these hotels are temporary. But right now, there is no move-out date.