New York City officials received the go-ahead Thursday to relocate homeless men from an Upper West Side hotel to another Manhattan neighborhood, ending a contentious battle that raged for months during the pandemic.
A decision by the Appellate Division cleared the way for the shift of residents from the Lucerne Hotel on W. 79th St. to a Radisson Hotel-turned-shelter in the Financial District. The homeless men were moved into the Lucerne last July as the city attempted to find safer residences for the dispossessed during the COVID-19 crisis.
The ruling dismissed an appeal by lawyers for the homeless and vacated a stay allowing them to stay in the Lucerne, with attorneys for the indigent clients declaring a partial victory despite the decision.
“We won critical rulings along the way that have already made a world of difference,” said Michael Hiller, attorney for the homeless men. “The temporary restraining order and stay we obtained from the courts made it possible for approximately 100 men to find homes ... So while we may have lost this battle, we are winning the war.”
The hotel became a flashpoint of sorts during the pandemic, when the once ritzy Lucerne — with its valet parking and spa services for tourists — became one of about five dozen hotels converted to homeless shelters by the city during the COVID-19 crisis.
“The City is gratified that the Appellate Division recognized the appeal is moot,” said the city Law Department in a statement.
The Lucerne sparked assorted protests as the Upper West Side residents took sides for and against the decision to move some 200 homeless men into the building. Some locals welcomed the new arrivals, while others complained of public urination and drug use associated with the men.
The city has used 67 commercial hotel locations to house the homeless since the outbreak of the pandemic.
“We appreciate the courts affirming our decision-making and strategic planning, especially with regards to shelter capacity and protecting health and safety of the New Yorkers we serve during this emergency period,” said a statement from the Department of Social Services-Department of Homeless Services.
“We continue to believe that the individuals residing at this location will be best served in the longer term by residing closer to the services they may rely on, like medical care.”
Mayor de Blasio, after a trip to the neighborhood in September, launched a plan to move the homeless out of the W. 79th St. building.
But residents of the Financial District quickly filed a lawsuit to block a transfer of the residents to the Radisson after another outcry forced the city to back off plans to move the men into a former shelter for families near the Empire State Building.
At one point, some of the homeless men even hired a lawyer to file affidavits arguing any relocation would be difficult for all of them.