New York City plans to move about 8,000 homeless people out of hotel rooms and back to barrackslike dorm shelters by the end of July so that the hotels can reopen to the general public, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Wednesday.
When the pandemic lockdown began last spring, New York City moved the people out of the shelters, where in some cases as many as 60 adults stayed in a single room, to safeguard them from the coronavirus. Now, with social distancing restrictions lifted and an economic recovery on the line, the city is raring to fill those hotel rooms with tourists.
“It is time to move homeless folks who were in hotels for a temporary period of time back to shelters where they can get the support they need,” Mr. de Blasio said at a morning news conference.
The mayor said the city would need the state’s approval to remove the homeless people from 60 hotels, but a spokesman for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said that as long as all shelter residents — even vaccinated ones — wore masks, the state had no objections to the plan.
“The governor has lifted social distancing restrictions, so now people just have to follow the C.D.C. guidelines on masks,” said the spokesman, Rich Azzopardi.
On Tuesday, Mr. Cuomo announced that the state was lifting nearly all remaining coronavirus restrictions and social distancing measures, after more than 70 percent of the state’s adults had received at least a first dose of a vaccine.
It was unclear when the city would move forward with its plan. When asked when people would be moved back to shelters, a spokesman for the city’s Department of Homeless Services said the agency still believed it needed the state’s approval.
The announcement signals the beginning of the end to a living arrangement that was popular with many homeless people, many of whom said that a private hotel room provided a vastly better living experience than sleeping in a shelter. Some said they would sooner live in the street than go back to a group shelter, where many residents are battling mental illness or substance abuse or both.
“I don’t want to go back — it’s like I’m going backward,” Andrew Ward, 39, who has been staying at the Williams Hotel in Brownsville, Brooklyn, after nearly two years at a men’s shelter nearby, said Wednesday afternoon. “It’s not safe to go back there. You’ve got people bringing in knives.” He said he had his belongings stolen countless times at the shelter.
At the hotel, he said: “It’s peaceful. It’s less stressful.” He said that if he was transferred back to a congregate shelter, “I’d just stay in the street like before.”
But the arrangement at the hotels, many of them located in densely populated middle-to-upper-class neighborhoods of Manhattan, has been a source of friction with neighbors who have complained of noise, outdoor drug use and other nuisances and dangers from the hotel residents.
The city’s decision last year to move nearly 300 people from a shelter on an island off Manhattan into the Hotel Lucerne on the Upper West Side touched off a monthslong battle. A state appeals court earlier this month ruled the city could move the people out of the hotel.
The mayor has said for months that the hotels were never intended to be permanent homes and that he wanted to move people out of them as soon as it was safe. But some advocates for the homeless have noted that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has offered to pay for the hotel rooms until the end of September and called Wednesday’s announcement premature.
At a small protest outside Gracie Mansion, the mayor’s residence, on Monday, homeless people and organizers from the advocacy group Vocal-NY demanded that the homeless remain in the hotels until they could be offered permanent apartments.
“Why the rush to put us back into the shelters now?” said Milton Perez, 45, who has spent five years in the shelter system. “Why the rush to put us in danger?”
The coronavirus hit the city’s shelter residents hard. More than 3,700 people in the city’s main shelter system contracted the virus, and 102 died of it, the city says.
During the pandemic, some congregate shelters closed entirely. Others moved most people out to create more space but stayed open.
Advocates noted that vaccination rates for homeless people might be much lower than the rate in the general population. The city said that about 6,300 homeless single adults had been fully vaccinated through Homeless Services sites, though it did not know how many had been vaccinated elsewhere. More than 17,000 single adults are in the main shelter system.
About 65 percent of adults in New York City have received at least a first dose of a vaccine.
“There are people sleeping in shelters who are still testing positive and getting sick,” Giselle Routhier, policy director at the Coalition for the Homeless, said in a statement on Wednesday. “Until permanent affordable housing can be secured,…