Posted on September 20, 2020 at 8:39 am by Carol Tannenhauser
By Carol Tannenhauser
The men experiencing homelessness at The Lucerne Hotel on West 79th Street and Amsterdam Avenue won’t be moving out before the end of the month, a spokesperson for Councilmember Helen Rosenthal told WSR. “All shelter moves have been put on pause until September 30th.”
In the meantime, in an interview on The Brian Lehrer Show (WNYC) on Tuesday, Rosenthal contended that changes at The Lucerne have helped to mitigate some of the problems that arose in the neighborhood in the first few weeks after the men’s arrival in late July. “There were very legitimate complaints about aggressive behavior and real quality-of-life concerns,” Rosenthal said.
Initially, in an email blast to her constituents, the councilmember called for no more shelters on the UWS, and vowed “to fight any attempt to keep the Lucerne shelter here longer than necessary” — positions she regretted and recanted in a follow-up email.
In retrospect, Rosenthal thinks her “moral compass was clouded” by the intensity of the initial outcry. Since then, “we have worked hard with the shelter provider (Project Renewal) to address the concerns,” she told Lehrer. “I would say, after about weeks two or three, many of those concerns had gone away.”
Rosenthal credits the improvement to both the strict “good neighbor policy” Project Renewal employs, and the expansion of programs and services for the men.
“If you display aggressive behavior on the street or in the shelter, you lose the privilege of living there,” Rosenthal explained. “At this juncture, the resident population at The Lucerne has gone down from 283 residents to 240…Those were the ‘bad apples.’ Usually, DHS (Department of Homeless Services) would send people to replace them, but DHS has acknowledged that the shelter population (at The Lucerne) was too big and they’re not replacing people who are moved out.”
She backtracked. “…to be clear, when I say ‘bad apples,’ what I mean is they needed additional services to the services they were getting at the Lucerne.”
Opponents of the shelter often claim that there are “no services” at The Lucerne — and no let up of the neighborhood’s problems. Holly, a local resident, called in to say, “it’s incredibly disingenuous of our representative to characterize it as only a two-week problem given that it continues to happen.” Rosenthal called the information “dated,” and asked for “patience.” In a letter to the Mayor and DHS Commissioner Steven Banks, she outlined service improvements that have been made at The Lucerne.
“…many Upper West Siders recently stepped up to arrange for donations to hotel clients, and private donors had provided funding ($250,000) to establish a day program for the clients at nearby Goddard Riverside. In fact, the Goddard program was scheduled to start the day after the City announced that it would move the residents (the food had been ordered and paid for.)”
Callers also included Joshua Goldfein of Legal Aid, which has threatened a lawsuit if shelter clients are moved, and a resident of The Lucerne known as “Da Homeless Hero,” who described the recovery programs now going on in the hotel’s penthouse conference rooms: 12-step meetings, harm reduction classes, etc.
Another neighborhood resident called in and confided, “I’m supposed to be having a session with my shrink right now, but this is very important. Yes, I did lose two friendships over this issue. I don’t want to be a Progressive Pollyanna, but…if a child sees somebody from such a place who’s being housed, and who clearly is different from the world they come from, I don’t think that’s such a terrible experience for a person to have, but I’m sure there are many people who don’t agree with me.”
Listen to the whole interview below.