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Homeless men lose court battle to stay in Upper West Side hotel

New York City was allowed to relocate dozens of homeless men from an Upper West Side hotel called Lucerne, after a state appeals court on Thursday rejected an attempt to prevent the city from moving them to another hotel in the city center.

The decision resolved a nearly year-long battle that had become a flashpoint for issues of race, class and tolerance in an affluent liberal enclave.

But it comes at a time when the city is reopening its doors to tourism and is already planning to move more than 9,000 homeless people from hotels to group barracks-like shelters. The hotels have been used as emergency shelters since the start of the pandemic to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

The city said it would allow Lucerne’s men to stay there until the biggest move takes place, rather than relocating them twice.

The city had moved nearly 300 men to the hotel last July. Many men said they found stability there, and some of their neighbors welcomed them. But others who lived near the apartment building, a towering 117-year-old brick structure at 79th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, complained that the men – some of whom suffer from mental illnesses and health problems. drug addiction – hanging out outside, using drugs, urinating in public and threatened them.

A neighborhood group lobbied the city to relocate the men, and in September the city announced plans to move them to a hotel in another wealthy neighborhood, the downtown financial district, where a other group of residents filed a complaint to stop the move.

The one-sentence ruling by the Supreme Court’s appeal division on Thursday ruled the attempt to stop the move moot because the three Lucerne residents on whose behalf the complaint was filed had all moved and obtained permanent accommodation. A lower court had treated the lawsuit as a class action suit covering all residents of Lucerne, but the appeals court did not see it that way.

As the legal process dragged on for months, most Lucerne residents had moved to permanent accommodation. Only 68 men still live there.

The city’s homelessness services department welcomed the decision.

“We appreciate that the courts have affirmed our decision-making and strategic planning, particularly with respect to the accommodation capacity and protection of the health and safety of the New Yorkers we serve during this time of year. emergency, ”the department said in a statement.

During the pandemic, the number of single adults living in shelters rose to nearly 21,000, from around 19,000, according to the Coalition for the Homeless. Part of the reason is that hotel shelters have attracted many homeless people who have generally chosen the streets over assembly shelters, which are often overcrowded and rife with crime.

An attorney for Lucerne residents, Michael Hiller, said the decision would result in the loss of their jobs for some 50 former residents of Lucerne. The men worked for a neighborhood clean-up organization, the West Side Greenskeepers, with a grant administered by a social service agency, Goddard Riverside Community Center, and the grant was conditional on Lucerne continuing to be used as a hotel. for the homeless, he said.

Mr Hiller said he was unsure whether he would appeal the case to the Court of Appeal, the state’s highest court. He said several temporary orders blocking the move had saved precious time which “allowed around 100 men to find homes.”

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