'A Recipe for Disaster': Opponents Sound Off Over City's FiDi Shelter Plan

The Radisson, at 52 William St., is slated to become a temporary shelter for homeless men later this month. In the future, the city plans to turn the building into a permanent shelter for adult families. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Oct. 07, 2020

Update 10/19/20: Even as some men were already being transferred into the Radisson, a judge granted a temporary restraining order against the move in response to a suit filed by three of the 235 men living at The Lucerne. "I hope this is an eye-opener to the mayor," Larry Thomas, a plaintiff, told the Daily News. "We might be on the bottom, but we ain't laying down."

Update 10/16/20: A State Supreme Court judge rejected the opponents request for a temporary restraining order that would have halted the scheduled relocation of the homeless men to the Radisson. The opponents said that on Nov. 16 the judge will hear arguments on their suit.

Update 10/12/20: Opponents of the move of homeless men to the Radisson Hotel in the Financial District announced that they have filed a lawsuit against the city to prevent the shelter from opening. The group claims the move "is motivated by political expediency rather than by public policy." The city's Law Department did not respond to a request for comment.

In the face of intense opposition, the city is moving ahead with its plan to transfer some 240 homeless men from The Lucerne on the Upper West Side to the Radisson Hotel at 52 William St. in the Financial District. Last week, during an emergency remote meeting of Community Board 1’s Quality of Life Committee, administrators who run the facilities gave a preview of what the community could expect, but did little to calm concerns or change minds.

This would be the men’s third move since the spring, when they were among 10,000 adults transferred from congregate shelters to hotels around the city as a precaution against the Covid-19 pandemic. They are expected to take up residence at the Radisson during the week of Oct. 19, or before if the hotel is ready, according to Joslyn Carter, administrator for the city’s Department of Homeless Services DHS. Once it is safe for the men to return to a congregate shelter, she said at the meeting, the building will become a permanent shelter for adult families, 18 years and older.

The planned move, announced without prior community notice by Mayor de Blasio, followed a threatened lawsuit by a group of Upper West Siders who complained that residents of The Lucerne, on West 79th Street, were openly using drugs, accosting pedestrians and otherwise hurting the neighborhood’s quality of life.

Jody Rudin, chief operating officer for Project Renewal, the agency contracted by the city to run many of its shelters, said at the meeting that many of the men who caused trouble were moved to other facilities. “We think these transfers were really helpful at the Lucerne,” Rudin said. “Not only did it decrease our head count by about 50 clients, but it created a more stable population of clients who we know better. So we feel we have harmony in the community at this point.”

Community board members and others questioned why the men needed to be moved yet again when they seem to have finally achieved a sounder footing on the Upper West Side. “The choice of the city to destabilize and dehumanize a group who are succeeding well in a location that they currently have and put them through this is upsetting to start with,” CB1 Chair Tammy Meltzer said, adding, “This is not about care, this is about pitting one community board against the other.”

Eric Rosenbaum, president and CEO of Project Renewal, acknowledged that “one of the things we’re saddest about” is that the men at the Lucerne will lose their relationship with Goddard Riverside and its Green Keepers program, which would have offered them training and employment through beautification projects in the community, with funds already committed by the agency’s board. 

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer called that loss “a crime.”

“It’s like a dream come true. Private money, spend it correctly and give these men the kinds of support that they need. That’s why I am incredibly upset about the move,” she said at the meeting.

The Mayor’s Office declined to respond to questions about the Goddard Riverside offer. 

Within days of the announced move, a new group, Downtown New Yorkers for Safe Streets, sprung up to oppose it, with membership on facebook reaching 2,600. The group is raising money for a lawsuit to stop it. Christopher Brown, a co-founder of the organization, said his members fear for the “safety of our children, the cleanliness of our streets and the integrity of our neighborhood.”

“I don’t know how it’s feasible for these people in this shelter,” he said at the meeting. “Where are they going to go in this area to congregate and hang out. There is no place for them and it just is not safe.”

Carter, from the DHS, said her agency is working on trying to find a solution. 

“I don’t have a straight answer for you,” she said. “This is something we’re aware of and we’re working on.” But, she added, “People who experience homelessness have a right to public spaces, too.”

“[This] is about the mayor overruling and disregarding the advice and the guidance of the elected officials on the Upper West Side, and making a political decision that almost everybody disagrees with,” Jessica Lappin, president of the Downtown Alliance, told Carter. “And it’s not in the best interests of these clients.”

“Until we have a plan in place it’s going to be a repeat of what happened on the Upper West Side,” she added, calling the move “a recipe for disaster.”

Asked by Lappin why the move was better for the men, Carter didn’t say.

“The decision was to use the space that was being underutilized, to give us the opportunity to turn it into an adult facility shelter.”

“That’s a different discussion that we welcome,” Lappin said. “We’re not discussing a family shelter.” 

“The men at the Lucerne will be moved to this site that is underutilized,” Carter repeated, and our long term plan is to turn it into a family shelter.” The primary reason for the move, she said, is that the Financial District  has “less density” of shelters than other neighborhoods.

“That’s where we landed and that’s where we are now,” she said.

A spokesman for the city’s Department of Social Services said in a statement that the city is dedicated to opening permanent shelters “in neighborhoods across the city,” and the eventual family shelter, “will be the first of its kind in this Manhattan Community District, dedicated to serving Adult Families experiencing homelessness as they get back on their feet.”

Following are responses to other questions posed to administrators of the Department of Homeless Services and Project Renewal during their appearance before the committee. Answers have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

What security will be provided in and around the Radisson?

Eric Rosenbaum, Project Renewal: There will be lots of security inside and we’re installing security cameras in all visible locations. We will have staff who will be walking around the neighborhood, some uniformed, some engagement specialists who know the population, know who we’re working with and if they see our clients out on the street they can engage with them. We’ll have ways for people in the neighborhood to connect directly with us. So if you see something happening right now there’s always someone at the shelter who will respond to that, and we will. There is a huge difference between people who are on the streets and refuse services and help, and people who agreed to be in the shelter and accept the constraints and the rules that come with living in a shelter.

Jody Rudin, Project Renewal: Drugs and alcohol, public intoxication, smoking inside, littering and congregating in the community is prohibited and congregating in the community are prohibited. Repeated violations of the Good Neighbor Policy can get you transferred out of the Lucerne or Radisson. Some of our clients are more behaviorally complex and can act out and if that happens repeatedly in the community, we would certainly try to transfer them to a more appropriate facility.

Are there any sex offenders among the men who are being moved? 

Joslyn Carter, Department of Homeless Services: No 

How many of the residents suffer from mental illness and substance abuse?

Carter: The folks who are with us are not unlike you and me. For us to be talking about what some of these individuals have? I don’t agree with it. Its a mixture of whatever they bring and we work to stabilize the people we work with. I am not coming back to you with percentages of who has what.

Is there a curfew for the residents?

Rudin: There is a 10 p.m. system-wide curfew imposed by the Department of Homeless Services. Clients who come in after 10 risk losing their beds. A determination by DHS is made whether we’re supposed to give the client a bed or whether they will provide transportation to another bed within their system. There’s no barrier to coming inside and no ejection of someone on the street.

Rosenbaum: You will see people coming in and out of the shelter after 10. That doesn’t mean we’re not enforcing the curfew. Some of our clients have jobs and if they have a pass for work they’ll come and go based on there work hours. 

What will be the public engagement for feedback with the community once you’re at 52 William?

Rosenbaum: Normally a Community Advisory Board is established when a shelter comes in and that would meet more often in the beginning stages of the shelter when things are settling in. We are willing to meet quite frequently if it’s productive and constructive. Charlie, our head of security, will make personal connections with businesses and with any residential buildings in the neighborhood. The program directors will make themselves available also. 

Where will the men go to smoke?

Rosenbaum: This is an issue that we have raised with DHS. We think we should identify that. All of us should know what it is before we move clients in, otherwise people get angry.

Do you have a comment? Write to carlg@tribecatrib.com


A devastating blow to the Financial District

I have been Chairman and co-founder of a drug rehab organization , one of the "premier" programs in NY State. We have been confronted by the NIMBY syndrome for 40+ years since its founding. Needless to say, we have always been sensitive to the community's reaction and needs, and to the fears they also express. It is not easy.

In this instance, I stand with the community for a number of reasons, but most importantly because the financial district is going through a dramatic change. It's singular character, both historically and financially, presents a unique opportunity to effectuate a change from a purely commercial area to one that is mixed historic, commercial and residential. To establish a homeless shelter in the district at this crucial time will be, in my opinion, a devastating blow to residents, businesses, and developers, and may well be the death knell for the efforts to revitalize and preserve the financial district.

As it is often said, "timing is everything," and perhaps at a different stage I would man the ramparts in favor of caring for people in need. But not this time.

[This is not to be interpreted as the position of my organization or its other board members. It is solely my view.].

I urge against approval. SIDNEY BAUMGARTEN