The vast majority of single homeless adults moved from shelters to stop the spread of COVID-19 were relocated to hotels in Manhattan, the city’s Department of Homeless Services data shows.
Of the 8,969 single adults assigned to “COVID-related” hotels, more than 5,400 are living in 32 Manhattan hotels — with at least 3,000 concentrated in Midtown, Hell’s Kitchen and Chelsea.
Those numbers are a stark contrast to other boroughs.
Staten Island hotels haven’t housed any single adults as part of the city’s effort to reduce the density in shelters and prevent the spread of COVID-19, city data shows.
As of July 31, 1,600 single adults have stayed in 15 Brooklyn hotels, 1,719 in 14 hotels in Queens and 240 in two Bronx hotels.
More recent data suggests there’s a bigger homeless population in Midtown hotels — up to 4,300, according to Barbara Blair, head of the Garment District Alliance. The numbers are consistent with a wave of complaints from borough residents fearful about the influx.
“It’s terrifying people,” said Dan Biederman, president of the Bryant Park Corporation and the 34th Street Partnership, which represents local businesses. “I have never seen such vociferous comments from owners and tenants.”
A homeless encampment along W. 39th St. between Ninth and Tenth Aves. on Saturday in Manhattan. (Barry Williams) (Barry Williams/)
The Garment District Alliance, which represents local businesses, wrote in an Aug. 17 letter to Mayor de Blasio the situation has “degraded to a crisis point.”
“Since the arrival of the temporary shelters throughout West Midtown, there has been a precipitous increase in crime and antisocial behavior on our streets,” the group wrote in a letter signed by dozens of businesses and residents.
“Open drug use and sales, drinking, fighting, aggressive behavior, panhandling, verbal altercations, urinating and defecating in public and loitering have become commonplace.”
“None of these issues existed at this level and intensity before the use of area hotels commenced,” the alliance added.
Some of the most vocal backlash has come from the largely white and upper-middle class Upper West Side, where for weeks residents railed against the relocation of about 300 homeless men to the Lucerne Hotel.
Video: NYC Plans To Move Homeless Population Out Of 2 Hotels (CBS New York)
De Blasio last week said the men would be moved from the Lucerne — not because of the political pressure from residents or Randy Mastro, the high profile lawyer and former deputy mayor who promised to sue the city over the controversy — but because it was part of a broader city policy goal, first outlined in 2017, to phase out hotels as shelter for the homeless and disperse the homeless more evenly throughout the city.
COVID-19 put that plan on hold as the city scrambled to slow the virus spread in homeless shelters by transferring people to hotels where they could better socially distance.
The emergency measure wound up concentrating single homeless adults — most of them men — in the heart of the city.
On Thursday, de Blasio said the city has begun to resume its pre-COVID-19 efforts, but he didn’t offer a timeline or specifics on how it would proceed.
The city has only transferred residents from one other hotel tapped to house single homeless adults during the pandemic. “There will be more, and the specifics are being worked through right now,” de Blasio said of broader plans.
Giselle Routhier, the policy director at the Coalition for the Homeless, contends the claim that the city is resuming its 2017 policy in the midst of COVID doesn’t add up.
Giselle Routhier, policy director for the Coalition for the Homeless.
“It’s total bulls— and you can quote me on that,” she said. “We’re living in a post-COVID world where the use of hotels is actually better. This makes no sense.”
It’s no surprise many of the hotels housing the homeless are in Manhattan.
Some of the city’s biggest hotels are concentrated in Midtown. The hotel industry has been devastated by the pandemic, and owners view housing the homeless as one way to recover some of their losses.
But that doesn’t mean they’re happy with the way the city is handling it, said Vijay Dandapani, president of the Hotel Association of New York City.
Vijay Dandapani, president and CEO of Hotel Association of New York, is pictured at the opening of the Brooklyn Health Center in 2017. (Danielle Maczynski/)
“We didn’t pick these hotels. It was [the city Department of Homeless Services] and the providers that picked these hotels,” he said. “We don’t think they should be there, but, look, these were the hotels most affected by the pandemic. They jumped at the opportunity.”
In general, more traditional homeless shelters are concentrated throughout the city in a different way. Midtown, Hell’s Kitchen and Chelsea have their share — 34 in total — but there are more in northern and eastern Brooklyn and in the South Bronx, city data shows.
De Blasio’s 2017 Turning the Tide initiative is intended, in part, to disperse those concentrations.
Both Biederman and Blair suggested the city apply the policy consistently and address the concentration of homeless people currently in Midtown.
“You did the opposite. You settled the homeless in a really concentrated area,” she said. “You have to relocate them or the tenants aren’t going to come back.”
City Hall spokesman Bill Neidhardt acknowledged the inconsistency, but also stressed the arrangement isn’t permanent.
“It’s temporary,” he said. “In shelters, people will be closer and in better contact with the services they need.”