MIDTOWN MANHATTAN, NY — Residents and elected officials took aim at the mayor Friday over the city's plans to boot dozens of homeless families from a Midtown shelter, rallying outside the building where hundreds of men are set to arrive once they are transferred from the Upper West Side.
In the rally outside the Harmonia shelter on East 31st Street, speakers blasted Mayor Bill de Blasio's decision to move hundreds of men from the Upper West Side’s Lucerne Hotel over to the Harmonia, displacing at least 330 people — many of them with significant disabilities.
Shelter resident Norma Torres Oliveri read a letter on behalf of other residents, telling those gathered that “The last few days have been extremely traumatizing.”
“We are all human. We deserve a decent place to live,” she said.
City councilmember Keith Powers, who represents Midtown, said he and other elected officials were there “to make sure that people aren't being evicted as part of a political game that's being played here in the city right now.”
"These are real people with real lives,” he added.
Speakers described a chaotic 48 hours inside the shelter, starting Wednesday evening when shelter staff knocked on some residents' doors, telling them to pack their bags to prepare for a sudden move.
"They asked, where am I going? There was no answer," Powers said.
At least a dozen families had left by Thursday — unaware that they had the right to request 48 hours' notice by the city prior to their evictions — and were moved to other shelters, a service provider told Patch. The city has since agreed not to kick out any more families until next week as it works to avoid a possible lawsuit by the Legal Aid Society, attorney Joshua Goldfein said.
For weeks, Upper West Side residents fiercely opposed — sometimes in violent, dehumanizing terms — the placement of about 300 homeless men in the affluent neighborhood as part of an effort to reduce crowding in shelters during the coronavirus pandemic.
Faced with a possible lawsuit brought by a neighborhood group, de Blasio bowed to pressure by announcing the transfers Tuesday evening, setting off a new round of outrage.
'They're not garbage'
In the meantime, some 150 shelter families are left in limbo. John Bostic, 59, came to the Harmonia in January and has physical impairments due to back and shoulder injuries that could be difficult to accommodate at other shelters.
"I’m not here because I want to be here," he said. "But thank God, it's a place with shelter."
Some 41 shelter employees also lost their jobs abruptly after the move was announced. Among them was Jossie Roche, who was laid off Wednesday after working as a cook in the shelter's kitchen since it first opened about two years ago.
She still came to the rally Friday, saying she wanted to support the clients she had helped serve.
"These are very decent people — I love them, I've been with them for two years," she said. "They deserve better treatment. I believe they're not garbage, they are people like us."
Other speakers at the rally included Borough President Gale Brewer, State Sens. Liz Krueger and Brad Hoylman and city councilmember Helen Rosenthal.
Having lost her own job in the shuffle, Roche said there wasn't much separating her from the homeless residents who were the focus of Friday's rally.
"I can see myself in their position, who knows when," she said. "Because I gotta pay rent."