Homeless Men Lose Court Battle to Stay in Upper West Side Hotel

New York City was cleared to move dozens of homeless men out of an Upper West Side hotel called the Lucerne, after a state appeals court on Thursday rejected an effort to stop the city from relocating them to another hotel downtown.

The decision resolved a nearly yearlong battle that had become a flash point for questions about race, class and tolerance in an affluent liberal enclave.

But it comes at a time when the city is reopening for tourism and already making plans to move over 9,000 homeless people out of hotels and back into barrackslike group shelters. Hotels have been used as emergency shelters since early in the pandemic to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

The city said it would allow the men at the Lucerne to remain there until the larger move takes place, rather than relocating them twice.

The city had moved nearly 300 men to the hotel last July. Many of the men said they had found stability there, and some of their neighbors welcomed them. But others who lived near the building, an imposingly elegant 117-year-old brick structure at 79th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, complained that the men — some of whom suffer from mental illness and substance abuse problems — loitered outside, used drugs, urinated in public and menaced them.

A neighborhood group pressured the city to relocate the men, and in September, the city announced plans to move them to a hotel in another affluent area, the Financial District downtown, where another group of residents filed suit to stop the move.

Thursday’s one-sentence ruling from the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court held that the attempt to stop the relocation was moot because the three Lucerne residents on whose behalf the suit was filed had all moved out and secured permanent housing. A lower court had treated the suit as a class action covering all of the Lucerne residents, but the appellate court did not see it that way.

As the court proceedings dragged out for months, most of the Lucerne residents had moved to permanent housing. Only 68 men still live there.

The city’s Department of Homeless Services welcomed the ruling.

“We appreciate the courts affirming our decision-making and strategic planning, especially with regards to shelter capacity and protecting the health and safety of the New Yorkers we serve during this emergency period,” the department said in a statement.

During the pandemic, the number of single adults living in shelters has risen to nearly 21,000 from about 19,000, according to the Coalition for the Homeless. Part of this is because the hotel shelters have drawn many homeless people who had typically chosen the street over the congregate shelters, which are often overcrowded and crime-ridden.

A lawyer for the Lucerne residents, Michael Hiller, said that the ruling would cause about 50 of the former Lucerne residents to lose their jobs. The men had been working for a neighborhood cleanup organization, the West Side Greenskeepers, through a grant that was administered by a social services agency, Goddard Riverside Community Center, and the grant was conditioned on the Lucerne continuing to be used as a hotel for the homeless, he said.

Mr. Hiller said he did not know whether he would appeal the case to the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court. He said that several temporary orders blocking the move had bought valuable time that “made it possible for approximately 100 men to find homes.”

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