Upper West Side residents say three hotels that are housing hundreds of homeless men during the coronavirus pandemic have turned the area into a spectacle of public urination, cat-calling and open drug use.
Among those staying at the luxury Belleclaire on Broadway and the Lucerne on W. 77th Street, and the more down-market Belnord on W. 87th Street, are people who are mentally ill, recovering from drug addictions, and registered sex offenders.
Ten sex offenders are staying in a single hotel — the Belleclaire, which is just one block from the playground of P.S. 87.
“It doesn’t feel safe anymore,” nanny Michele McDowall, 39, told The Post.
She said she was recently offered crack by a pair of homeless men as she wheeled a toddler along Riverside Park at 79th Street.
“You want to buy crack?” she said they shouted repeatedly as she hurried past, and as the frightened 2-year-old girl in the stroller put her hands over her ears and cried, “Too loud!”
The homeless men have been moved from dorm-style shelters around the city so they can be sheltered one or two to a room to better protect them from COVID-19, officials explain.
“In order to defuse that ticking time bomb, we implemented a massive emergency relocation of human beings from those congregate shelters throughout the city, more than 10,000 in about eight weeks,” Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Steven Banks said Thursday.
But neighbors say that now a new bomb is ticking in and around the three hotels. They are three out of 139 hotels being used to house homeless in the city, a source connected to the Hotel Association of New York City told The Post.
Hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent on the relocations, the source said — 75 percent of it paid for by FEMA, and 25 percent by the city — a breakdown confirmed by city officials.
“The contract is short-termed and runs through October but will likely be renewed,” the source said.
DHS is handling the distribution of the funds, but has been less than transparent in informing the neighborhood or releasing details publicly.
“The DHS is a rogue agency,” one local community board member said of the homeless influx, noting that residents were given no input and little or no notice of the move.
The board member, who asked to not be identified by name, said that they were told the city was paying the hotels $175 a day per homeless person or “two guys in a room at $350 a day.”
“You do the math,” the board members said. “It’s a lot of money.”
The board member added, “It feels like the 1970s. Everyone who can move out is moving out.”
Asked about the funding and the number of homeless people being housed, a Department of Homeless Services spokesman said “File a FOIA.”
“The do not give us the information in real time,” a spokesperson for the city Comptroller’s Office said of the city when asked for the same data.
A Facebook group has been formed where residents exchange photos of men peeing, masturbating and laying sprawled and passed out near the hotels.
“Our community is terrified, angry and frightened,” one organizer of the 1,700 member group, Dr. Megan Martin, told The Post.
A group of nearly a dozen local rabbis last week asked to meet with the mayor to see if something can be done — so far, no response, one told The Post
And the PTA for neighborhood school P.S. 87 sent out a letter on Monday urging parents to call their local politicians to roust their newest neighbors entirely.
Of greatest concern for parents are the sex offenders — ten are living at the Belleclaire, the state sex offender registry said as of Thursday. That’s just one block from P.S. 87’s playground.
The ten include Luis Martin, 44, who stabbed, punched and raped a woman in 1995, resulting in a 12-year jail sentence — and four offenders whose victims were children.
They are: Ronald Butler, 62, convicted in June, 2013, of raping a 16-year-old girl;’ Eddie Daniel, 59, convicted of abused a 10-year-old in 2011; Jonathan Evans, 29, convicted of abusing a 6-year-old, and Michael Hughes, 55, convicted of possessing child pornography in 2007.
“I tell my 10-year old ‘I’ll be back in two minutes’– I guess I won’t do that anymore,” mom Mariane Dabo told The Post at the playground after learning of the sex offenders. “It’s scary,” she said.
“Since they have arrived just a week ago, members of our community have seen men urinating in public,” the PTA’s letter to parents laments.
“There have been fights at 79th and Amsterdam, on Broadway between 79th and 80th. Some of community families have been verbally harassed, men have been spitting in Metal Park (in Covid times) and sadly, some have reported seeing men looking for drugs or using drugs,” the letter read.
Then there are the drug and alcohol addicts.
Nearly 300 homeless addicts alone have since last week lived at the Lucerne at 79th Street and Amsterdam, where on Thursday afternoon, a trio of homeless residents filled a Post reporter in on the ongoing drug use.
“Listen, whatever drug you can imagine is done there,” Angel Ortiz, 60, told a Post reporter of his fellow residents outside the hotel.
“They shoot up, sniff up, crack, K2, everything,” agreed a fellow resident who gave his name as “B.K.”, and his age as 43.
“You got drunks — you got violent drunks,” another Lucerne resident, William, 45, told The Post — though he kept interrupting the interview to call out to passing women.
“What’s up momma? How you doing pretty girl? Yo’ fine self,” he shouted. “How you feel baby girl? Pretty girl.”
When his offer to sell K2 to the reporter was rebuffed, he noted, reasonably enough, “It’s not for everyone.”
Across the street, Mariano Ouatu, 49, runs a restaurant, Coppola’s, where drunken arguments among the homeless are driving away his customers.
“They go to the tables, they asking for money,” he said.
“Screaming, forget about it. It’s like a jungle. They get drunk and they start fighting,” he said.
If he tells a couple of them to move along, “Already there are 20 around you. … They are now on Broadway. Everywhere. Everywhere. Sitting on the bench. Drinking. There is a liquor store. You see them go in and out, in and out, in and out and buying those liquor bottles.”
He added, of the Lucerne, “Beautiful hotel, I can’t believe it”
Loitering in nearby parks leaves them littered with needles, the letter complains.
The newstand run by Malik Faheem, 54, at 83rd and Broadway has been robbed three times, he said.
“Usually they steal petty things like candy,” he said, adding he is forced to take the loss to avoid a fight.
“They’re not very peaceful,” he told The Post, singling out one imposing, 6′ 3” homeless man who harasses small women, demanding, “Gimme 2 dollars, I’m going to breakfast.”
“It’s not a request. He pushes you, forces you, without touching. Especially ladies. They get scared. They give it to him right away.”
After fifteen minutes or so, several of the menacing men will have collected maybe $20 or $30, Faheem noted.
“Then, they go to the next corner. So many times I call 911. So many times. Cops do nothing. Progress? Zero.”
It’s the wild west, complained Upper West Side parent Mira Gross — who said she knows some 20 families who have moved out or are considering moving.
Broadway is now a “halfway house,” she said. “It’s not just people loitering. They’re either passed out or they’re menacing,” she said.
One of her kids asked her recently, “Mommy, can we sleep on the street [too]?” she said.
“People are saying we’ve moved back to the 1970s,” she said. “But the people who were here in the 1970s say it’s much worse than it was.”
Under state law, a sex offender is allowed to live anywhere so long as the registry has their current address; only offenders who are still on parole are barred from living within 1,000 feet of a school.
“No residency-restricted sex offenders are residing at these locations – and all individuals residing at these locations are permitted to reside there under State law,” a DHS spokesman said.
“The City of New York places all clients in appropriate locations in accordance with State Law – and we provide shelter to New Yorkers experiencing homelessness regardless of background.
“This includes helping people rebuild their lives and grow through second chances as they get back on their feet. New Yorkers experiencing homelessness are our neighbors – and the notion that they are not welcome in some neighborhoods for any reason is an affront to basic decency.
“We don’t discriminate based on people’s previous experiences or backgrounds, and we will not create gated communities within our City – we extend a helping hand, no matter what.
“Now more than ever, these services and supports, this empathy and humanity, are essential, across all communities, across the five boroughs – and our commitment to providing them to those in need must be unwavering.”
Additional reporting by Nolan Hicks and Elizabeth Rosner
Source: New York Post
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