New York City resumed the process of transferring thousands of homeless people from pandemic hotel rooms back to barracks-style group shelters on Monday, two weeks after a judge halted the moves on the grounds that the city was not giving adequate consideration to people’s health.
Monday’s transfers, which caused confusion outside at least two hotels in Midtown Manhattan, came amid growing concerns over the recent quadrupling in coronavirus cases citywide and over the objections of advocates for homeless people, who said that the city was flouting the judge’s orders.
As three yellow school buses and several accessible vans waited outside the Hotel at Fifth Avenue near the Empire State Building, one woman, Dianne Marks, said that she had been told she was being transferred to a group shelter uptown, even though she had applied for a disability exemption known as a reasonable accommodation because of respiratory problems and other health issues.
“I have no idea what is going on,” said Ms. Marks, 57, as hotel residents milled around with their possessions in city-issued trash bags.
The transfers resumed on the same day that Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered that city workers get vaccinated or tested weekly because “the Delta variant is deadly,” and his former health commissioner was quoted as saying that the transfers of homeless people to group shelters — where 20 people sometimes sleep in a single room and share a bathroom — endangered “the entire city.”
The city does not know how many homeless people have been vaccinated. It says that 7,300 out of 20,000 adults in the main shelter system have been vaccinated at sites run by the Department of Homeless Services and that an undetermined number have been vaccinated elsewhere. Those who are unvaccinated could easily spread the coronavirus in group accommodation, advocates for homeless people say.
Under an order issued July 13 by a federal judge, the city cannot transfer people who might qualify for reasonable accommodations without giving them at least seven days’ notice and meeting with them at least five days before the transfer to determine whether they qualify. The order came as the city was less than halfway through moving more than 8,000 people — a process that it is pushing to complete by the end of the month to open up rooms in hotels for tourists.
Mr. de Blasio had said all along that housing people in hotels, which the city began doing in the early days of the pandemic to stem the spread of the virus, was meant to be a temporary measure. He said that homeless people needed to be moved back to group shelters because they receive better social services there — an assertion challenged by some advocates and shelter operators.
People staying at the hotels, many of which are concentrated in the heart of Manhattan, have been the subject of repeated complaints from neighborhood residents and business owners about harassment, theft and drug use. Several of them have been charged in vicious attacks, including at least two hate-crime assaults on Asian Americans.
A spokesman for the city Department of Homeless Services, Isaac McGinn, declined to say how many hotel guests were being transferred to shelters on Monday, how many had requested reasonable accommodations and how many had been granted them. But he said the department remained “committed to continuing our individualized, person-by-person engagement of each client regarding their unique needs.” Before the judge’s order, the city said it had granted hundreds of accommodations.
Advocates from the Safety Net Project of the Urban Justice Center wrote to city officials on Monday morning urging them to stop the transfers, saying that they had talked to many people who had not been given an opportunity to apply for reasonable accommodation and others who had received misleading or confusing transfer notices, or no notice at all.
“Cruelty and chaos,” Helen Strom, the group’s supervisor of benefits and homeless advocacy, said on Monday afternoon. “People are being sent to places where they have active domestic violence cases and orders of protection. People with serious physical disabilities are being sent back to congregate shelters that cannot accommodate them.”
July 26, 2021, 5:19 p.m. ET
Ms. Marks, at the Hotel at Fifth Avenue, said that she had never been formally notified of her right to apply for reasonable accommodation and learned about it only by overhearing other residents talking about it in the elevator.
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Outside a Hilton Garden Inn on West 37th Street, one woman, Shareena Clark, was so distraught about the move that she began banging her head against the hotel’s sliding glass door.
“I was frustrated,” Ms. Clark, 29, said later, wearing a kerchief with ice cubes in it tied to her head. “The stress, the anger, everything. I don’t have a clue where I’m going.”
Another hotel resident, Nicole Henry, said that she was told only on Thursday that she could apply for a reasonable accommodation, and that the very next day, before she could even apply, she was told that she was being moved to a group shelter.
“They didn’t even give us a chance to do anything,” said Ms. Henry, 38. A few minutes later she got on a bus headed for a group shelter in Downtown Brooklyn.
The sidewalk in front of the hotel was lined with bags of people’s clothing and other belongings that they were forced to discard because they could only take two bags each.
On Monday morning, The Daily News published excerpts from a letter urging Mr. de Blasio to scrap the transfers written by Dr. Oxiris Barbot, a former city health commissioner who quit last year after clashing with the mayor over the city’s handling of the pandemic, and signed by members of a group called the New York Doctors Coalition. The letter said that moving people back to dorm-style shelters “directly threatens the health of thousands of homeless New Yorkers and, indirectly, that of the entire city.”
Mr. de Blasio reiterated at a news conference Monday that the city had made the decision to move people back to shelters “in careful consultation with our health care leadership.”
His current health commissioner, Dr. Dave A. Chokshi, said that the Department of Homeless Services had “labored over several months to ensure that vaccination is readily accessible and available” to homeless people and noted that shelter workers were included in the new vaccination and testing mandate. The city’s legally mandated right to shelter does not allow it to require that residents of homeless shelters be vaccinated.