Manhattan Billionaires’ Row homeless shelter opens after protracted legal battle

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After four years and several court battles, a residence for 140 homeless people has opened quietly, just steps from some of Manhattan’s most expensive real estate.

The West 58th Street Hideaway is located in the former Park Savoy Hotel, next to an entrance to the 1,000-foot-high One57, one of the many buildings on so-called Billionaires’ Row.

The shelter opened on Friday, the Homeless Services Department said, more than four years after the city first submitted plans to the state in August 2017 – and more than three years after neighbors have taken legal action to block the establishment. Enemies claimed the building was unsafe, but New York’s highest court spoke out against the group in May.

DHS Commissioner Steve Banks said to his knowledge it was “the longest and best funded litigation” against a shelter in the five boroughs.

“Not all shelter openings give rise to a legal challenge, but when there have been legal challenges, we have won in all of them,” he told LA VILLE.

Only five men have moved in this week, and a few will move in each week until the shelter is full, officials said.

Quiet on West 58th

The block was quiet Monday afternoon, three days after the facility, run by the operator of the Westhab shelter, officially welcomed its first residents.

All that indicated the new addition to the neighborhood was a little sheet of white paper stuck in the front window that read “Welcome to Park Savoy’s Quick Relocation Program.”

The West 58th Street Coalition, the group that has led the long legal fight against the shelter, has spent at least $ 287,000 to hire lobbyists to help their cause, according to the city’s lobbying records.

Opponents also spent at least $ 100,000 on billboards in Iowa to protest Mayor Bill de Blasio as he traveled the state during his short 2019 presidential campaign.

The West 58th Street group’s legal team included then-Guiliani-era deputy mayor Randy Mastro, who lobbied the governor’s office and other state officials not to grant the approvals needed to open the shelter, LA VILLE previously reported.

Mastro also represented a group of Upper West Side residents who had sued the city to remove the homeless men from the Lucerne Hotel on West 79th Street, which had turned into an emergency shelter early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Across from the shelter, Robin Siskin, a resident of West 58th Street for 30 years, said she donated $ 25 to the Coalition’s legal fund and was surprised to learn that the shelter had opened.

The last time she heard about it was in a November 4 email she received from the West 58th Street Coalition which indicated that the group had planned a breakfast with Mayor-elect Eric Adams on the 15th. November.

“It’s an incredible opportunity to meet him and express our concerns about Savoy and the homeless crisis in general,” she said. “There is a huge homeless crisis in New York City, but there are other ways to solve it. “

The Adams spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request from THE CITY for a meeting with the group.

Inquiries to Michael Fischer, head of the West 58th Street Coalition, were not returned on Monday.

You seek to be “a good neighbor”

Catherine Trapani, executive director of advocacy group Homeless Services United, of which Westhab is a member, said she was happy that “the space can be used by people who need it.” She explained “how shameful it is” that the building has gone unused for four years.

“We’ve been through a whole pandemic, and record [numbers] single adults in the shelter system, and it was left empty, ”she said of the West 58th Street building.

Jim Coughlin, COO of Westhab, said the group looks forward to “being a good neighbor and working collaboratively with local residents and businesses” as well as providing job training and job placement services. “for every person who walks through our doors”.

Banks said that in his experience at the Homeless Services Agency and before that as an attorney for the Legal Aid Society for many years, neighbors of homeless shelters generally have “a lot of concerns. Before an opening, but these “blend in” after residents actually move in.

“I urge everyone to focus on the human beings who need a roof over their heads and help us support them,” he said.

‘Need a place to go’

West 58th Street Residence opens as city completes major change to move thousands of people from commercial hotels – open mainly in Midtown as emergency housing at the height of the pandemic – a return to more traditional and “staging” shelters where residents sleep several people in one room.

The latest of those moves took place in late September, a DHS spokesperson said. There are only two hotels left in use as COVID-19 shelters throughout the city, one in Manhattan and one in Queens, both of which are in emergency use for quarantine and isolation.

No commercial hotel is currently operating as a refuge in Manhattan’s Community District 5, which encompasses Midtown and the West 58th Street location.

Overall, the total number of people in the city’s shelter system has fallen since the height of the pandemic, from over 60,000 in April 2020 to just over 46,000 now, data shows. census of shelters. The shelter population previously peaked at around 61,000 in January 2019.

The majority of the shelter population is made up of families, according to the Coalition for the Homeless, and nearly one in 10 public school children live in unstable or temporary housing.

Still, single adult men make up about a third of the shelter system, many of whom are previously incarcerated and have unique difficulties finding a place to live, Trapani said. Their numbers returned to 2019 levels – with 16,863 in DHS shelter beds on Friday night – after a pandemic peak of more than 18,500.

“These are the people who need us the most right now,” Trapani said. “Of course we want permanent housing solutions, and we’re going to keep working on that, but until then these guys need a place to go.”


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