Downtown New Yorkers file lawsuit against homeless shelter

A new group called Downtown New Yorkers Inc. has brought an Article 78 proceeding — the process used for citizens to formally appeal the decision of a state or local agency — to prevent the city from moving the 235 men currently living in a homeless shelter on the Upper West Side to new housing at the Radisson on William Street.

The organization was formed legally as a non-profit on Oct. 1 and filed suit today, asserting that the city is “exploiting the current humanitarian crisis to cover up its own mismanagement” and charging that the move was not prompted by coronavirus considerations and there is no public health rationale for it.

It is also pitting the residents of Fidi against the residents of the Upper West Side in what is bound to be a bigger legal battle, with the men living at the Lucerne caught in the middle like pawns in a chess game. It is also making for some strange bedfellows.

In a meeting held with members of the public and Community Board 1 on Oct. 8 (the second, after another on Oct. 1) the administrator for the Department of Homeless Services said the move was an attempt to redistribute shelters around the city. (There was some confusion about the meaning and use of “dedensify” — DHS used it both to describe the thinning of the crowd at congregate shelters for health reasons and the thinning of the number of shelters in any one neighborhood for fair share purposes.) DHS said it wants to create high-quality, permanent shelters in every community district, and it has none here in CD1. This is the short-term plan for the space since the city has already been using it to house homeless men since the end of March. Long term it will become permanent housing for adult families.

The men being moved now had been relocated from shelters on the Lower East Side to the Lucerne Hotel, along with two other hotels nearby, at the start of the pandemic. Those covid regulations are still in place; when they end, these men will return to their “shelter of origin.”

The move from the Lucerne to the Radisson is scheduled for the week of Oct. 19.

The suit from Downtown New Yorkers included an affidavit from Christopher Brown, a resident of 2 Water, who stated that when the city moved homeless men into the Hilton Garden Inn next door to him in June, he saw an increased incidence of men drinking, smoking pot and crack, snorting cocaine, and screaming and fighting in the plaza in front of his building. He expects this shelter at 52 William will bring more of the same to the neighborhood.

“The neighborhood has changed drastically since June,” Brown said in his affidavit. “Although there were homeless individuals present in FiDi prior to a temporary shelter opening at the Hilton, I had never previously witnessed incidents or this nature.”

The suit also calls for a temporary restraining order against the city, the mayor, DHS and Steven Banks, which the document referred to as the DHS commissioner, but in fact he is the commissioner of the NYC Human Resources Administration, aka the Department of Social Services.

This is just the latest in a series of threatened legal actions regarding these 235 men. First Upper West Side neighbors of the Lucerne engaged hired gun Randy Mastro to represent them against the city and get the men moved off 79th Street; then in early September, when the city said it was moving them to a hotel on 31st Street, where the current shelter residents would have to be moved out to make room, the Legal Aid Society threatened to sue the city. The city then came up with the plan to move the Lucerne residents to William Street, where it was already operating a temporary shelter.

While they are pawns in this battle pitting neighborhood against neighborhood, the men living at the Lucerne — at least for the next few days — are chiming in on the Downtown lawsuit as well. Shams DaBaron, who also had an op-ed in City Limits about the move, told Community Board 1 that “we don’t want to move because we’ve been moved around quite a bit. And just up and moving like that, especially with such short notice, is traumatizing, to say the least.”

“I was taught that when truth comes, falsehood vanishes, so I hope that we can move forward and really think about the humanity of our New York neighbors, whether rich or poor,” he wrote in City Limits. “I would imagine it’s not easy to run a city, but the mayor needs to act with compassion, not make rash decisions when lives are at stake. All we are seeing is trauma on top of trauma.”


1 Comment

  1. bravo to chris brown and downtown nyers! diblasio feels he can ram his projects like the jail and homeless shelters into downtown nyc and we will roll over. downtown myers are showing that is not the case.

    mayor has too many vanity projects and wasteful spending