About 200 homeless men will have to vacate a hotel on Manhattan’s Upper West Side that has been used as an emergency shelter during the pandemic, a judge ruled on Wednesday, the latest twist in a contentious case that has been a flash point in one of New York City’s most liberal enclaves.
The judge in Manhattan said that the court lacked jurisdiction over the dispute and that she would dismiss the proceedings.
The hotel, The Lucerne, which used to offer valet parking and spa services to tourists during pre-pandemic times, is one of 63 hotels the city has temporarily used as shelters since the beginning of the epidemic to help prevent the spread of coronavirus at dormitory-style shelters where single men and women cannot safely distance.
The city’s strategy has sparked legal threats, protests, news conferences and the formation of several neighborhood groups — some opposed to these shelters and others in favor. But caught in the middle of the political push-and-pull are the displaced men whose lives have often been upended by evictions, unemployment and other traumatic events.
Specifics about when the men will have to move from the Lucerne, where they have been since July, to their new home, a Radisson Hotel in the Financial District, were not immediately available.
Lawyers representing some of the homeless men at the Lucerne and city officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The decision is a blow to many of the men, who said that they had found a sense of belonging on the Upper West Side and had found a measure of stability with the community’s help.
Mayor Bill de Blasio decided to move the men from the Lucerne Hotel in September after visiting the neighborhood and after a group formed by area residents hired a well-connected lawyer to threaten a lawsuit against the city.
The city first tried to move them to a shelter for homeless families near the Empire State Building, but blowback from residents there led to the decision to send them to the hotel in Lower Manhattan. A neighborhood group in the Financial District promptly sued the city to stop the move.
Lawyers for the city argued that the Radisson was a better option because it had more indoor space and more single rooms.
A lawyer representing some of the men at the hotel said that moving them would deprive them of services and jobs that they were able to get by being at the Lucerne.
Debra A. James, the Supreme Court justice who presided over the case, last week questioned the city’s rationale for moving them.
“Because there were particularly powerful people, there was a decision made that the men have to go?” Judge James said during the hearing, which lasted more than five hours spread over two days. “That’s a concern of mine.”
Soon after the men moved into the Lucerne, residents of the Upper West Side formed a private Facebook group that featured frequent posts blaming the men for public drug use, urinating in the street and harassment, and at times described them using racist, dehumanizing language.
Other residents reached out to the men, and in time formed a nonprofit that worked with them to develop services, including a program that gave jobs to 50 men, which their lawyer said would no longer be available if they had to leave the hotel.
According to the city’s Department of Homeless Services, moving about 9,500 people from shelters to hotels had saved many lives. The outlook for the residents in the main shelter system, currently at about 60,000 people, was far more perilous earlier in the spring, when they were still living in dormitory-style shelters.
The mayor has defended his decision to relocate the men as part of an effort to return homeless people back to conventional shelters, but a more widespread effort to do so does not yet appear to be underway.