City to move some homeless into hotel rooms

Homeless advocates say that after weeks of “dangerous inaction,” the measure falls short

Mayor Bill de Blasio (Credit: EuropaNewswire/Gado/Getty Images)
Mayor Bill de Blasio (Credit: EuropaNewswire/Gado/Getty Images)
Mayor Bill de Blasio (Credit: EuropaNewswire/Gado/Getty Images)

Mayor Bill de Blasio (Credit: EuropaNewswire/Gado/Getty Images)

To help contain the spread of the coronavirus in the city’s shelter system, 2,500 homeless New Yorkers will be moved into hotel rooms, bringing the total to 6,000. But homeless advocates say it’s too little, too late.

The city will prioritize seniors and anyone with symptoms or who has tested positive for Covid-19, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Saturday in a press conference at City Hall. The measure will be in place by April 20, he said.

“Some of our most vulnerable New Yorkers are homeless,” de Blasio said. “Our shelter system is an area where we are focused on ensuring that those without a home are protected and given the support they need through this crisis. It’s tough enough to not have a place to live.”

But Peter Malvan, a spokesperson for the Homeless Can’t Stay Home campaign, said taking nearly 10 days to complete the move will mean the difference between life and death for many.

The decision comes after weeks of “dangerous inaction,” Malvan said, though he called it a step in the right direction.

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“However, thousands of human beings will still be left on the streets and tens of thousands will be left in highly dangerous shelters,” Malvan said. “The sooner the mayor can offer 30,000 single hotel rooms with individual bathrooms to all homeless people in congregate shelters and on the street, the better it is for all New Yorkers.”

At least 20 homeless people in New York City have died from the coronavirus as of Friday, according to the city’s latest data, and the total number of homeless people diagnosed with the illness reached 343.

Advocates have been asking the city to make hotel rooms available in light of the pandemic for several weeks. An open letter signed by more than 150 health professionals across the country urged the city to move all of the approximately 62,000 homeless persons in New York City into vacant hotel rooms, which number more than 100,000 citywide.

The 6,000 people de Blasio said will be staying in hotel rooms takes into account 3,500 homeless New Yorkers who are already in hotels, which the city typically repurposes for homeless shelters. That means just 2,500 will be moved out of shelters.

In March, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that several ritzy hotels – including the St. Regis and the Wythe – would open their rooms for medical staff and non-critical patients. He touted no such arrangement for the homeless, and New York’s newly-enacted state budget did not include any additional funding to address homelessness.

In New York City, the hotel occupancy rate as of last week was 18.3 percent, which is about 79 percent lower than at the same time last year, according to hotel data firm STR. City hotels have laid off thousands of workers across the city to reduce expenses as revenue cratered.

De Blasio did not specify which hotels will receive the additional homeless New Yorkers or how much the city will be paying per room.