Council bill would house homeless in hotels

The measure would expire at the end of the state emergency

New York City Council member Stephen Levin and New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson (Levin by Andy Katz/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images, Johnson by Gary Gershoff/Getty Images for Housing Works, iStock)
City Council member Stephen Levin and Speaker Corey Johnson (Levin by Andy Katz/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images, Johnson by Gary Gershoff/Getty Images for Housing Works, iStock)

UPDATED April 21, 2020, 6:36 p.m.: The Department of Homeless Services may soon be required to move single shelter residents into hotels during the state of emergency.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and City Council member Stephen Levin are introducing legislation that would require all single adults living in homeless shelters — or those eligible for shelters — be given the option of a private room with a bathroom until the state of emergency ends.

The legislation does not specifically mention hotels. But the terms of the proposal leaves no other option but to use commercial hotel rooms, which the city has already done for nearly 4,500 single adults.

The bill would also require the Department of Homeless Services to report on the unmet need for such rooms and demographic data on those who receive the rooms.

“24/7/365, we’re working harder and faster than ever to respond to challenges this city has never seen before — and we continue to explore new strategies and policy responses as this crisis develops,” a spokesperson for the department said in a statement.

The proposal was praised by advocates for the homeless, who urged its expedited approval. Social distancing is a challenge in the city’s crowded shelters, and nonprofits that aid the homeless have few resources.

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“Moving homeless New Yorkers immediately out of crowded shelters, off the streets, and into single hotel rooms with private bathrooms is the best way to protect the community from contracting and spreading Covid-19, and further overwhelming our hospitals,” Peter Malvan, an advocate with Safety Net Activists at the Urban Justice Center, said in a statement.

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New York City has lost 43 homeless persons to the coronavirus so far, according to DHS, while at least 617 have tested positive.

Still, Safety Net Activists’ statement criticized New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio for what it sees as his resistance to the “common-sense steps” outlined in the legislation.

At the beginning of the health crisis, Malvan and other homeless advocates demanded such a measure be taken but found little enthusiasm among elected officials. In March, Gov. Andrew Cuomo touted a move to house medical staff and non-critical patients in some of the priciest hotels in New York City. In April, de Blasio increased the allotment of hotel rooms for the homeless by 2,500 for single adults, which both advocates and public health experts said was insufficient to meet the need.

With tourism brought to a halt, more than 100,000 hotel rooms are vacant in New York City, according to STR. Hotels across the country, including the Plaza and Four Seasons in New York, have closed and laid off staff.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified Malvan’s quote.