The respite from the pandemic has allowed some to rebuild their lives, but now forces them into the hell of public shelters
It was easy to go from the street to a hotel room. In the first weeks of the pandemic, the covid left the homeless naked in the deserted streets of New York, without an open McDonald’s in which to use the bathroom. When the virus caught on like wildfire in the shelters, the activists forced the City Council to pay for rooms in the ghost hotels, which otherwise would have had to close. But now that they are preparing to welcome the tourists back, it is time to get rid of them.
On Monday, a school bus picked up 60 remaining older children at the Lucerne Hotel on the posh Upper West Side. The imposing building with more than a century came to accommodate 300 men transferred from the municipal shelters to the stately enclave of Amsterdam Avenue and 79th Street, very close to Lincoln Center, where the New York aristocracy go to the opera or the ballet.
The neighbors were horrified. Some of these homeless people were so grateful for their luck that they spent days without leaving the hotel, ecstatic at the privilege of having a private room after having shared bunk dorms with up to 11 people. They took the longest shower of their life, wept with happiness looking out the windows at the street, and slept for ten hours straight in those fluffy beds with white duvets. Others, after suffering on the streets with mental illnesses, drug addiction and alcoholism, continued loitering in the surroundings and even urinated on the sidewalks.
For a year the city has fought both the demands of the residents, who demanded that they be relocated outside their neighborhoods, and those of the activist organizations that have tried to make change only for the better. His goal was to move from hotels to homes, but not to go back. Neither side won the battle. It has been the capital that has led the cat to the water. Despite the fact that the federal government had offered to pay the costs of their rooms until the end of September, the City Council has decided to remove them from the hotels before the end of July. The yellow buses return them to the municipal shelters, where the covid claimed more than a hundred lives, to make room for the tourists they trust to bring the economy back to life.
This week eight hotels in Manhattan will get rid of 1,500 residents who will remember the year of the pandemic as the one in which they felt like people again. Some had barely a month left to enter the subsidized housing they had been awarded thanks to pressure from social justice groups.
Others relied on the economic reopening to obtain a job that would allow them to pay for a decent home. The authorities give them up to 1,250 dollars a month (about 1,050 euros) to pay it, but in the city of skyscrapers it is practically impossible to find a study for that money. The fine print forces them to sign a contract to be reimbursed, so renting a room in a shared flat or subletting an old rental apartment is not an option for them. “Every day I look at StreetEasy.com and nothing comes out for that price,” Ashley Belcher told The City.
Hotel rooms have provided the homeless with the opportunity to own a computer or tablet without being stolen on the street and signal to connect. Some have taken advantage of the break to take courses online and hoped to break the vicious circle that led them to sleep on the street, in subway cars or, in the worst case scenario, in municipal shelters, where few could reconcile the I dream between the smells of urine, the snoring of others and the fear of being raped or robbed. The city wants everything to return to normal, but for the 9,000 homeless who return to the streets, the normality of before is today their worst nightmare.