West Side Community Organization Writes Letter to Helen Rosenthal

  Last modified on September 24th, 2020

The West Side Community Organization wrote a letter to Council Member Helen Rosenthal this past Friday, September 18, to request a meeting to discuss the future of The Lucerne Hotel and its temporary homeless residents.

Represented by attorney Randy Mastro, the West Side Community Organization threatened to file a late August lawsuit against the City if it did not prepare a relocation timeline within 48 hours of its request. In support of the homeless residents staying at Upper West Side hotels, the Legal Aid Society threatened an opposing lawsuit at the same time.

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Around the beginning of the second week of September, it was announced that all temporary Lucerne Hotel residents would be relocated by the end of the month.

This decision led to a protest outside The Lucerne Hotel and at Gracie Mansion, as well as the threat of another lawsuit by the Legal Aid Society, which argued in defense of the residents who’d be displaced in order to make room for the Lucerne Hotel’s would-be former guests.

As of mid-September, a temporary pause was put on these relocation efforts.

Here’s the letter the West Side Community Organization wrote to Helen Rosenthal in its request to meet with her:

Dear Council Member Rosenthal,

Today is the eve of the Jewish New Year. A time for renewal. A time to make amends. To heal. In the spirit of the season, we thought we’d reach out with an eye towards all of us working together to our shared goal: an Upper West Side that is welcoming and safe for all, a neighborhood that we all love deeply and that reflects the best in all of us.
We write to you today as the leaders of the West Side Community Organization, or WestCo, which we’re sure you know was formed organically in the wake of the city’s flawed decision to move more than 700 men into three hotels in our neighborhood, hotels that simply cannot provide the services that many of these struggling individuals need.
The members of WestCo, and the Facebook page from which it sprung [Upper West Siders For Safer Streets] — and which now has more than 15,000 members — are your constituents. Many of us have cast our votes for you; one of our original board members hosted a fundraiser for you when you were just starting out. But today we simply do not believe you have our best interests at heart. That is why we are writing to you to set up a meeting where we can talk this through and clear the air – and look for solutions.
This summer, when the men were moved into the hotels without notice, the surge in crime was apparent, a fact that after initially downplaying, you acknowledged repeatedly, as recently as this week. [283 homeless residents were moved into The Lucerne Hotel on July 27]. We shared your disappointment that the move was done without notice, and we were assured when you said you’d ask for a moratorium on additional shelters in the neighborhood and that you’d work with the city on our behalf. But then, days later, you disavowed the moratorium, and stated you’d like more shelters to move to the neighborhood. And then you went on television and called us racists. You have aligned yourself with groups that do not stand for the Upper West Side, who do not live here.
Mayor de Blasio came to see the situation himself and said it was “unacceptable,” underscoring what we have been saying all along. Crime has not abated. Check the 911 and 311 calls. These men were not moved to the Lucerne from congregate shelters for COVID-related reasons. They were moved from the Washington Jefferson hotel in Hell’s Kitchen which they left after that community’s leader, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, acknowledged the outcry about a crime surge and moved them out. Proper services for this population of mentally ill, chemically addicted individuals are not available on site. We know this from the head of Project Renewal, the third-party provider at the Lucerne, who said so himself. There is no methadone on site. There is no recreation space on site. There is no detox available. Men are traveling as far as Brooklyn for their 12-step programs. The hotels are missing many of the crucial services that are standard and necessary in shelters.
These men deserve to be housed, but not to the detriment of the neighborhood housing them.  In fact, WestCo and its supporters have asked that these men be moved to state-accredited facilities that will give them the care they need. The Mayor has promised to do so, reiterating what he and other homeless advocates have long said: Hotels are not the answer.
You had every right to think that the Upper West Side would welcome people in need with open arms. This is a compassionate, diverse community, a liberal bastion of people who have for decades welcomed the unhoused. Before this chain of events, the Upper West Side already had 7 shelters. Now we have 11 shelters and rank 9th of 59 in neighborhoods housing the homeless. That history speaks volumes.
That’s who we are, have always been, and will always be. But to help these men, they need far more than what has been provided. We hope you respect our candor and honesty laying out our concerns. We hope you’ll agree that the time for name-calling and politicking has passed, and the time for us all to move forward together to find a solution that will help our neighborhood and others, as well as these vulnerable men, is now. We look forward to meeting with you at your earliest convenience.
Sincerely,
WEST SIDE COMMUNITY ORGANIZATION”

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