Homeless New Yorkers who have been sheltered at an Upper West Side hotel as part of a controversial plan to prevent the spread of COVID-19 claim they
Homeless New Yorkers who have been sheltered at an Upper West Side hotel as part of a controversial plan to prevent the spread of COVID-19 claim they were offered an unspecified sum of money and food if they agreed to move out.
In court papers filed in Manhattan on Tuesday, one of the homeless being sheltered in the Lucerne Hotel said he and others were approached with offers of food and money in exchange for signing a pledge saying they wanted to leave.
In late October, Elihu Hesterbey says an unnamed woman offered him cash if he would ‘sign papers saying that I no longer want to live at the Lucerne and would prefer to move to the Wall Street area,’ according to the affidavit cited by the New York Daily News.
The court document indicated that Hesterbey ‘politely explained that I was not willing to sign anything.’
Protesters display signs at a press conference in support of the homeless men living at the Lucerne hotel on Manhattan’s Upper West Side on September 9. Two of the residents in the hotel say they have been bribed with food and money by locals who want them relocated downtown
A group made up of residents and businesses in Manhattan’s Financial District is suing the city to stop a plan to relocate the homeless men to the Radisson hotel near Wall Street
Another affidavit cites another Lucerne resident who said an unnamed woman offered him ‘pizza or pasta’ if he signed a petition to ‘support our Forced Relocation.’
This past summer, some 230 homeless men were put up in rooms at the Lucerne Hotel on West 79th Street, where local residents have complained about deteriorating quality of life brought on by rampant drug use and lewd displays.
The issue has become contentious as community residents formed rival groups – one of which is urging the city to evict the homeless from the hotel while another is demanding that they be allowed to stay.
Three homeless men living in the Lucerne filed a request for a temporary restraining order last month that halted the city’s planned transfer of the sheltered residents to the shuttered Radisson hotel in Lower Manhattan’s Financial District.
Last month, a group of Wall Street residents and businesses filed suit against the city in a bid to stop Mayor Bill de Blasio from relocating the homeless men to their area.
The fate of the homeless men sheltered in the Lucerne has ignited a fierce political and legal battle among local residents who are divided over the question. A protest in support of allowing the residents to stay is seen above at the Lucerne on October 19
City officials announced in September that people living in the Lucerne Hotel would be moved downtown after Upper West Side residents threatened legal action over the ongoing presence of homeless people in the area.
Residents and businesses in the lower Manhattan region quickly hired an attorney to bring a lawsuit against the city.
The anti-homeless WestCo, which represents Upper West Side residents, has reportedly threatened to get involved in the lawsuit.
WestCo is eager for those sheltered in the Lucerne to move downtown to the Radisson, while the Financial District residents oppose this.
The court papers filed on Tuesday do not accuse anyone specific of making the food and cash offerings in exchange for the homeless men’s signatures.
‘No one associated with WestCo offered to pay or paid anyone at the Lucerne in exchange for anything,’ a WestCo spokesperson told the Daily News.
‘Individuals there signed affidavits of their own volition because they wanted to share their stories.
‘That they met with a WestCo affiliate over coffee or a simple meal to share their views in support of the move to the better facility downtown is hardly newsworthy.
‘But the allegation that they were given anything of value in exchange for their testimony or that anything untoward occurred here is simply a lie.’
Michael Hiller, an attorney representing one of the men who filed the affidavits in court, said the offers of food and money are ‘frankly disgusting.’
Mayor Bill de Blasio has been criticized for the city’s strategy in dealing with its homeless population during the COVID-19 pandemic
‘It really represents the worst impulses of some New Yorkers and thank goodness there are very few who fall into this description,’ Hiller told the Daily News.
The next court hearing in the Lucerne case is scheduled for Monday. A judge will decide whether to grant WestCo’s request to become a party in the case.
The homeless men asking to stay at the Lucerne say that the move to another area where residents have strongly opposed their presence would cause ‘massive psychological damage’ and ‘irreparable harm.’
De Blasio has gone back and forth over the past few months on how to address the backlash surrounding his decision to play some 13,000 of the city’s homeless population into hotel that were left empty when the pandemic disrupted tourism.
The move was meant to protect the homeless people, many of whom suffer from mental illness and addiction, safe during the pandemic.
But many residents living near hotels-turned-shelters voiced outrage over the initiative, saying that the growing homeless populations diminished their security and quality of life.
In September, de Blasio reversed an earlier decision to transfer the homeless out of the Lucerne.
He appeared to have changed his mind just days later when officials announced the pending move to the Financial District.
The mayor’s office quickly fielded fresh criticism from FiDi residents who say they felt blindsided by the relocation of homeless to their area.
Critics formed a Facebook group called ‘Downtown NYCers for Safe Streets’ shortly after the officials announced the plan to convert the Radisson on William Street into the area’s first-ever traditional shelter.
‘We believe that our residents should have been notified in advance of this possibility and now that it has been agreed to without our knowledge, we need to make our voices heard,’ the page description reads.