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Shelter residents dig in after being given hours to leave, make way for displaced men from UWS hotel

Posted at 7:47 PM, Sep 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-10 22:36:31-04

MIDTOWN, Manhattan — In response to neighbors' complaints, Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration vowed to move hundreds of homeless men out of an Upper West Side hotel to a shelter just south of the Empire State Building, but that shelter is currently full of adult families, many with disabilities.

The city not only neglected to tell the families that they were forcing them to move, it also didn't tell them that they were being transferred out immediately, without time to even pack all of their belongings. The Legal Aid Society is now launching a lawsuit.

The city on Wednesday morning formally announced that it was moving 300 men out of the Lucerne Hotel in one of the city's wealthiest neighborhoods. By Wednesday afternoon, residents of the Harmonia Shelter, on East 31st Street in Midtown, still didn't know that the de Blasio administration had decided to relocate them to make way for the men displaced from the Lucerne.

Maria Lopez has lived at the Harmonia for two years.

"Why are you going to take out families that are doing something positive," she said, "and bring something that's negative? And make it some men's shelter, that don't make no sense."

Lopez said that she'd taken advantage of a variety of programs offered by the Harmonia Shelter and was on course to sign a lease on an apartment in the Bronx this fall. She'd intended to remain at the shelter until the apartment that would end her homelessness was ready.

The city has upended those plans, not only for her, but other shelter residents as well.

Glenda Harris said that she's already signed a lease on an apartment in the Bronx, but that it won't be ready for occupancy until the end of the month. She spoke while she watched some of the shelter's newest residents be loaded onto buses and transferred to other facilities.

"It makes me cry," Harris said. "It hurts."

She and her husband both use wheelchairs, and the Harmonia Shelter is designed to accommodate them. It has done so for nearly three years. Now, though, they face the prospect of being moved to another facility on Friday -- most likely in Canarsie, Brooklyn, they said they'd been told.

"Now I've got to move from Manhattan to Brooklyn," Harris told PIX11 News. "Then in two weeks, I've got to move to the Bronx."

She said that it was wrong. Legal Aid Society housing attorneys agreed with her.

Josh Goldfein is a staff attorney who represents clients in Harmonia. He said that the de Blasio administration had assured Legal Aid that it would ensure that no Harmonia Shelter residents would be moved without a determination that the place to which they'd been assigned could fully accommodate their needs.

"If we find that people are being moved despite the assurance that the city gave us," Goldfein said in an interview, "we're going to go to court and ask for an order that they comply with the law."

Late on Thursday afternoon, Legal Aid officially confirmed that it's planning what's called an Article 78 filing against the city, which, if approved by a judge, would result in a restraining order against the city's removal of shelter residents.

For now, most of them remain. They said that they'll fight the removal plan to the end.

They will join with their attorneys and homeless advocates in a news conference on site on Friday at 11:00 a.m.

PIX11 made a variety of inquiries to the Homeless Services and Human Resources Administration offices of the city's Department of Social Services. Nobody from the city has responded to our requests for comment.