‘This Is about Pitting One Community Against Another’
Packed Meeting Airs Concerns about Plan for Homeless Shelter on William Street
Above: Homeless in Tribeca. Below: The Radisson New York Wall Street, at 52 William Street, is the site of a planned homeless shelter.
A special meeting of Community Board 1 (CB1), called to gather information and air concerns about a de Blasio administration plan to locate a shelter for homeless men in the Financial District, drew more than 1,000 online participants on October 1.
The hotel, known as the Radisson New York Wall Street, is located at 52 William Street. Housing homeless persons there is actually not a new development. The City’s Department of Homeless Services (DHS) has used the building since March as a temporary facility, aiming to limit the spread of the pandemic coronavirus among residents of the shelter system.
But DHS now plans to convert the facility into a longer-term shelter, for clients who are slated to be transferred from Lucerne Hotel, on the Upper West Side, after residents in that community organized, raised funds, and hired lawyers to stop the agency from housing approximately 240 homeless men there. After City officials agreed to vacate the Lucerne, they settled on the Radisson New York Wall Street as a replacement facility.
Above: CB1 chair Tammy Meltzer: “The community wants you to have these answers before you move these people. This is not humane for them, either. It’s like like trying to pack bags after you leave on vacation.” Below: Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer: “There were a lot of issues when—again, without any notification—these folks were moved from a hotel on 51st street up to Lucerne.”
Tammy Meltzer, chair of CB1, opened the October 1 session by saying, “this meeting came about because we were pipe-bombed information on Friday night, with no notification, no facts, no input, no engagement, nothing.” This was a reference to the DHS’s announcement of the move just before the start of a three-day weekend, under the rubric of an “emergency order.”
“The fact that this will do nothing to address the [homeless] people in our community, who are part of CB1, is untenable to us,” she continued. “We want to help people who are on the streets here, want to provide options for people who, when the eviction moratorium goes away, want to be able to stay here.”
“Adding people without helping the people already here does not seem fair to us,” she observed. “This Mayor is making a decision that is about pitting one community against another. This isn’t about humanity, this isn’t about care. As a Community Board leader, I completely disagree with this. There is no less value to homeless people in CB1 as opposed to,” those on the Upper West Side.
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer observed that the decision appears to reprise a similar move by the de Blasio administration several months ago. “There were a lot of issues when—again, without any notification — these folks were moved from a hotel on 51st street up to Lucerne,” she said. Ms. Brewer also noted that the Goddard Riverside Community Center, located near the Lucerne Hotel, has raised, “hundreds of thousands of dollars to provide jobs and a six-day-per-week program, from 8:00 am through 8:00 pm,” for the men sheltered there. “This is a dream come true: private money, spent correctly, to give these men the support they need. This is still on the table, but not if they move. That’s why I’m very opposed to this.”
State Senator Brian Kavanagh: “You can have tremendous sympathy of these men, and still be very skeptical about what the City is proposing here.”
City Council member Margaret Chin: “The threat of a lawsuit is not a good reason—it is not an emergency. We need to sit down with the City and plan for shelter that can help families and people in need within Lower Manhattan.”
State Senator Brian Kavanagh said, “this raises two very distinct issues. First, should the City be moving these men from that shelter to this new location? But the second question is larger: What can we do to create capacity for these kinds of services in this district? You can have tremendous sympathy of these men, and still be very skeptical about what the City is proposing here. We need to have a longer-term conversation about what is going to happen with that Radisson site.”
City Council member Margaret Chin said, “I’ve spoken to my colleague, Council member Helen Rosenthal, who represents Upper West Side. She is against the move, because it is unconscionable for the City to move these residents again. They’ve been moved several times in the last six months, and were not consulted. They need stability.”
“We welcome more shelter opportunities in CB1,” she added, “because we have a large homeless population here that needs services. But the threat of a lawsuit is not a good reason—it is not an emergency. We need to sit down with the City and plan for shelters that can help families and people in need within Lower Manhattan.”
State Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou: “Why does this constitute an emergency, especially when the homeless residents on Upper West Side were doing well there?”
Department of Homeless Services administrator Joslyn Carter: “I understand that you were not given any notice, but this was part of a review by the Mayor and this is the decision that was made.”
State Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou observed that she and other elected officials, “were all very puzzled about why this constitutes an emergency, especially when the homeless residents on Upper West Side were doing well there.”
Joslyn Carter, the administrator of DHS, said, “I understand that you were not given any notice, but this was part of a review by the Mayor and this is the decision that was made.”
Pat Moore, who chairs CB1’s Quality of Life Committee, asked, “how was 52 William selected?”
Ms. Carter replied. “the mayoral review looked at the distribution of hotels, and we started to look at where hotels were. Some areas had more COVID hotels than others.” She continued, “one of the things we want to do in this administration is make sure that we have equity in where we have shelters. This site gives us the opportunity to have a permanent shelter in this district.”
“That does not answer Pat’s question,” Ms. Meltzer pressed. “We want specific information about why this location was chosen for a temporary shelter,” she noted, in a reference to DHS’s distinction between a temporary facility at 52 William Street (for single homeless men) and a planned permanent shelter (for homeless families with grown children). “Choosing a site for a permanent shelter is a totally different process. How this was turned from a quarantine hotel into a separate temporary shelter?”
Ms. Moore asked, “are any of these men sex offenders?”
Ms. Carter answered, “I can tell you they are not.”
“Where they will go to smoke and where will they go for recreation?” Ms. Moore continued.
Ms. Carter responded, “I have no answer, but the homeless have a right to public space.”
Ms. Meltzer insisted, “the community wants you to have these answers before you move these people. This is not humane for them, either. It’s like trying to pack bags after you leave on vacation.”
Downtown Alliance president Jessica Lappin: “This is about the Mayor overruling and disregarding the advice and the guidance of elected officials on the Upper West Side and making a political decision that almost everyone disagrees with.”
Jessica Lappin, president of the Downtown Alliance, said, “we appreciate that these are real people we are talking about, human beings,” noting that the Alliance has placed more than 60 homeless people formerly living on Lower Manhattan’s streets in shelters during the past year, 20 of them in the past month.
“Our staff are on a first-name basis with many of them,” she said, “and we recognize that there but for the grace of God…”
But, she observed, “this is about the Mayor overruling and disregarding the advice and the guidance of elected officials on the Upper West Side and making a political decision that almost everyone disagrees with. What are the services you are going to provide? How and why is this in the best interests of these men? Until there is a plan in place, this is going to be repeat of the Upper West Side. It is a recipe for chaos and disaster.”
Vanessa Herman, the assistant vice president of government and community relations at Pace University, said, “we have several residence halls that line William Street corridor, and we’re very concerned about this proposed shelter. There has been a drastic uptick during the last two years in harassments, assaults, and students being followed by individuals identified as being homeless. Students no longer feel safe.”
Ms. Carter countered that, “there are bad people in every population, but not everyone experiencing homeless is a criminal. Framing is important. Think of them as human, and not somebody who is out to get you.”
“That’s not what I indicated,” Ms. Herman retorted. “We are concerned and we are not getting answers.” She then asked, “can we see the report that you mentioned?”
Ms. Carter replied, “the review was done through the City’s Law Department and our commissioner,” which may have the legal effect of exempting the document from public scrutiny.
Financial District Neighbors Association president Patrick Kennell: “My neighbors in FiDi are a compassionate group of people, but we have some legitimate questions. We need facts.”
CB1 member Justine Cuccia: “You need to get back to us with information about this population. What are their issues? Are they dangerous? You should know this, because you have been working with them.”
Patrick Kennell, president of the Financial District Neighbors Association (FDNA), said, “I was surprised by Joslyn’s presentation, because of the lack of specifics. My neighbors in FiDi are a compassionate group of people, but we have some legitimate questions. We need facts.”
“What financial resources has City committed to this site currently, and what will be committed in the future?” he asked. “We want to make sure folks are not moved here and then totally abandoned.”
“And it’s unfair that mayoral study be shielded,” Mr. Kennell added. “The public has every right to see it.”
Justine Cuccia, a member of CB1’s Quality of Life Committee, asked, “what percentage of these people suffer from mental illness?”
Ms. Carter replied, “I will not disclose that, because it is unfair to label people.”
Ms. Cuccia insisted, “you need to get back to us with information about this population. What are their issues? Are they dangerous? You should know this, because you have been working with them.”
Ms. Carter said, “that’s not something I’m going to be doing. Every person in every family has situations. I’m not coming back to you with percentages of who has what. For us to be talking specifically about what these individuals have, I don’t agree with it.”
Ms. Carter added that the move from the Lucerne to the Radisson New York Wall Street, originally slated for the first week in October, has now been pushed back to October 8. An additional online meeting between CB1 and DHS has been scheduled for tomorrow (Thursday, October 8) at 6:00 pm. For more information, please browse: www1.nyc.gov/site/manhattancb1/index.page
(Editor’s Note: Ms. Cuccia is related to the reporter who wrote this story.)
Quay to Success
Pier 26 Opens with Amenities Galore
The tally of great public spaces in Lower Manhattan has increased by one. Last Wednesday, the Hudson River Park Trust officially opened Pier 26 in Tribeca (near Hubert Street), the product of a decade-plus of planning and construction, and a $37-million budget.
The result is 2.5 acres of woodland forest, coastal grassland, maritime scrub, and a rocky tidal zone—all culminating in a breathtaking view of the Hudson River. Additionally included in the design are a multi-use recreation field and a spacious sunning lawn, as well as boardwalks and seating areas. To read more…
Eyes to the Sky
October 6 – 18, 2020
Planet Mars Will Surprise You
A rusty-gold star-like celestial body shines suspended above the eastern skyline at nightfall. It is heaven’s celebrity of the month. Even though I knew that planet Mars is predicted to be at that location after sunset, a rush of surprise overcame me when, approaching a clear view to the east, the planet’s brilliant light pierced the darkness. Mars is brightest for the year in Earth’s skies. Today, the 6th, it will orbit closest to our planet since 2018 and arrive at “opposition” on the 13th.
According to Simulation Curriculum’s Starry Night Skyguide software, the red planet’s magnitude ranges from -2.56 tonight to a maximum of -2.62 on the 12th. By the 18th, Mars’ magnitude drops to -2.52 and continues to decrease, but is still quite bright until the end of October. Note that the red planet’s maximum magnitude possible seen from Earth is -2.92.
“During the Mars opposition in 2003, the Red Planet was only 34.6 million miles … from Earth. This was the closest the two planets had come to each other in almost 60,000 years, and this record won’t be broken until Aug. 28, 2287, according to NASA.” This year, Mars will be closest to Earth, at 38,568,243 miles distant, at 10:19 a.m. on the 6th. The planet’s furthest distance is 250 million miles.
Follow Mars from sunset to sunrise. Take a first look before moonrise. The waning gibbous moon rises in the east-northeast at 8:38pm on the 5th and half-hour to an hour later all this week The rusty-gold orb reaches rather high in the sky at midnight and then drops to set in the west as the sun rises in the east.
Sunset is at 6:30 Eastern Daylight Time today and about two minute earlier everyday through the 18th. Mars rises at about 7 o’clock today and several minutes earlier every evening.
Words Come to Life Amid New Installation in Battery Park City
Poets House—a library, creative space, and meeting place that invites poets and the public to step into the living tradition of poetry, while cultivating a wider audience for the art—will celebrate its tenth anniversary in Battery Park City by launching the Poetry Path, an immersive public art installation running the northern length of Battery Park City, from Rockefeller and Teardrop Parks to the North Cove Marina. To read more…
A weekly bagpipe tribute honors those who died on 9/11 as well as those who are sick or who have died from exposure to hazards and toxins in the aftermath of 9/11. Bagpipers play near the 9/11 Memorial Glade.
Wang Qingsong is widely considered to be one of Asia’s most important photographic artists, whose large-format photographs address China’s rapidly changing society. Join us for an online tour of Wang’s recent exhibition, “On the Field of Hope,” at Tang Contemporary, Beijing, followed by an insider’s visit to his Beijing studio. Wang, who trained as a painter, began taking photographs in the 1990s as a way to document the tension of cultural shifts and global change. Wang will be joined in conversation with renowned art journalist Barbara Pollack, and Dorinda Elliott, Director of Programs at China Institute after brief remarks by Carol Stepanchuk–Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies, University of Michigan and Natsu Oyobe–Curator of Asian Art, Museum of Art, University of Michigan.