Manhattan, NY

New York City's Plan to Relocate The Homeless From Hotels Was Temporarily Blocked by Federal Judge

Synthia Stark

Several days ago, New York City had plans to move over 8000 homeless people out of hotels (and into group shelters) but was disrupted by a federal judge that determined that the health of the homeless was not being adequately considered.

This federal judge was Gregory Howard Woods of the Federal District Court in Manhattan. The rationale is that New York City cannot transfer people who may qualify for reasonable accommodations, without providing those people at least seven days' notice and a meeting to determine if they are qualified for those accommodations.

What This Means

This ruling prevents the city from transferring anyone with a disability to another site until determining and evaluating whether or not the transfer meets their needs. The city will need to know who might qualify for these reasonable accommodations.

Thus, the entire program must pause for some time with further revisions.

For example, there are many homeless living in hotels. Each one would have to have a meeting to determine this eligibility then. As such, the process of transferring them will take much longer (and there are many homeless people in New York City).

Why The Homeless Transfers Were Happening

Mayor Bill de Blasio was planning to move these homeless people out of their private hotel rooms, where they had been residing during the pandemic, and eventually put them back in regular group shelters. This is because it is a part of his re-opening strategy.

As things re-open, we may expect to see some things revert to how they were before. Plus, more tourists, visitors, and workers may want to come back to certain areas too.

Regular group shelters often have as many as 10-20 people sleeping in the same room or sharing quarters (more or less) while the hotel affords them some dignity, safety, and privacy.

During these trying times, it's good that some homeless needs were taken care of, but as all good things come to fruition, they may also eventually end too.

Pushing The Homeless Out of Manhattan

There's been a shift to gradually move homeless people away from the central Manhattan area.

Other measures taken by the city to gradually move homeless people (away from Manhattan) include removing encampments where many homeless people stay in.

There has also been an expansion to the 311 system that lets riders call in to make complaints about panhandlers and report homeless people. After reporting homeless people, outreach workers can go to those homeless people and try to help them.

Recently, and for the past few weeks, converted schools have pulled up along hotels in Times Square and other parts of the city, to shuttle the homeless towards group shelters further out. That is until the federal ruling came into play.

The Criticism and Pushback

These transfers have drawn in crowds of protesters, including those who are homeless and their advocates. For example, before the judge made the ruling, many people were arrested at the lobby of a Lower Manhattan building. This building had some offices for the Department of Homeless Services.

You see, some of the homeless wanted to be moved directly to permanent housing instead of a group shelter. Some didn't mind leaving the hotels but are worried about getting sick easily.

It Becomes Another Person's Problem

Others have pointed out that the city's efforts to push the homeless outside of the city might be seen as insensitive since homeless people don't just disappear: they end up somewhere else. Elsewhere, they may be treated in the same way and pushed back into the city once again.

Shelters are Potentially Contagious Hotspots

Plus, given ongoing world events, it may be reckless to suddenly push them into group shelters since they are usually contagious hotspots. Currently, it is unknown how many homeless people are vaccinated. The pandemic may get worse and we'll be back with a more dangerous city.

The safest alternatives are to either keep them in their current living arrangement or slowly relocate them to a different (but safe place) that meets their needs (that is not a crowded group shelter). This is to ensure that the rest of the city is safe also.

Here's a video summarizing this:

Final Thoughts

Either way, the judge did make the ruling that the safety of the homeless was important, given current world events. If they are sick, we may easily get sick too. Thus, many homeless remain in hotels, unless a reasonable accommodation is established, and a meeting takes place, with at least several days' notice for a possible transfer.

The safety of New Yorkers, including the locals (and the homeless), is very important. We are all human, regardless of our views on this matter.

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Mental Health Professional | Crisis Responder | Science Writer


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