Two very different petitions have recently been created to address the increasing homeless crisis on the Upper West Side. Both aim to create awareness and compel action from local, city, and state politicians.
In addition to these two petitions, which we describe below, a Facebook group called Upper West Siders for Safer Streets was recently formed. Since inception, the group has become a sounding board for concerned locals who have witnessed multiple crimes and are looking for a place to turn for help. On the other hand, some UWS residents say that groups like these represent a NIMBY mentality, and have created their own petition as a reaction to what they see as the unfair stigma of a life-saving program.
The first petition is titled “We Demand Safe and Clean Streets on the Upper West Side,” and at the time of writing, already has over 3,800 signatures. The primary concern raised in this petition is the lack of vetting of individuals being placed in the hotels near schools. This lack of diligence by the city has resulted in sex offenders being placed near schools. The petition also notes that many homeless residents are drug users who openly use in the streets, creating safety hazards for the community.
“Residents, including myself, have observed drug use in public. This situation is making life uncomfortable for residents and putting families, children and the elderly in harms way. Please sign the petition and share the link if you are in support of relocating these men,” reads the petition.
The petition and its signatories want to see change, but many of its supporters do want to see the men get help. Comments left on the petition state that they understand how challenging the homeless situation is, and would like to see these men get the services they need. “Nothing wrong with providing a challenged population with necessary social services, but it has to be done in a more thoughtful way,” states one of the commenters.
Thoughtfulness seems to be what is lacking amongst local politicians. With Council Member Helen Rosenthal flip-flopping on her stance to protect the community, it’s hard to know who has the power to do anything about this situation.
A second and very different petition has also been created. Titled Upper West Siders for a Compassionate, Safe and Equitable Community, this petition reflects Helen Rosenthal’s new statement that the homeless shelters are temporary and part of a plan to reduce the spread of COVID.
“This program is literally saving lives, and is smartly making use of hotels that are sitting empty due to the pandemic, which also supports local businesses. Every neighborhood in the city is being asked to do their part. Over 60,000 New Yorkers are currently experiencing homelessness and the UWS houses approximately 2% of them*. We cannot let misinformation about individuals experiencing homelessness get in the way of keeping our whole community safe,” states the petition.
This petition also calls out people who take and post pictures of the homeless men they are concerned about.
“We have witnessed in the past weeks people posting photographs of these men, often simply sitting on a corner and speaking to their friends or members of the community; discouraging others from donating to those in shelter; and speaking about these men in ways that take away their humanity. Regardless of where a person stands on this issue, we want to invite people to think about these men as human beings, with hopes, fears, and stories of their own.”
The petition ends by noting the image of the UWS is one of progressively-minded people coming together to fight injustices.
Upper West Siders on both sides of the issue have expressed their annoyance that petitions and Facebook groups do little to help effectuate change or solutions to the problems they highlight. There is a sense that complaining about the issue does little to move the needle, and they are looking for more action oriented solutions.
New Yorkers for Safer Streets (not the same as Upper West Siders for Safer Streets) is a large and influential group which has been addressing the issues of street safety, particularly with regard to homelessness and crime. The NYFSS leadership team has spent many months meeting with elected officials to educate them on crime and safety statistics.
In a recent letter to Helen Rosenthal, they remind her of their concerns about transparency and accountability.
“Since the inception of NYFSS, we have advocated for safe and humane housing for homeless New Yorkers in addition to advocating for the overall safety of our neighborhoods. When we met with you last November, we raised our concerns about the lack of safety in and around Upper West Side homeless shelters, and expressed our outrage that the Department for Homeless Services (DHS), which is an NYC government agency, operates without transparency, accountability, or community engagement. DHS continues to operate with impunity, and the agency’s recent actions in our neighborhood have put the safety of our families at risk more than ever,” reads the letter.
NYFSS has also outlined steps that elected officials should be taking to make progress. These steps include demanding transparency from DHS on plans to move people into shelters around the city, ensuring no sex offenders are moved close to schools or playgrounds, working with the NYPD to ensure safety in the communities, making sure information is shared to the community regarding inspections of shelters and contracts with local businesses, and making sure shelters are compliant with state and city laws. Groups such as NYFSS aim to provide action-oriented solutions for some of the pressing problems our city faces. The full letter can be viewed here.
We have reached out to Helen Rosenthal’s office to find out if there is an end date for the city contracts with Hotel Belleclaire, The Lucerne, and the Belnord Hotel. We are waiting to hear back from her office.
The photos being taken of the new residents of the Upper West Side hotels show these men congregating in groups without masks; smoking pot or K2; urinating in public or being so intoxicated that they can’t sit upright. This is happening in areas where residents need to walk and go about their daily business. A woman has been stabbed at the W 72nd St subway stop, a man was sucker punched while dining with his wife on Columbus Avenue. Residents are being approached with frequency by panhandlers. These men are homeless not because they’re down on their luck but because they are addicts or violent offenders who can’t be rehabilitated. Most Upper West Siders would be very open to receiving families with children who are homeless because of job loss or other circumstances not of their own making.