The Upper West Side has been abuzz for weeks about the relocation of a number of homeless men to various hotels in the neighborhood. Many of the men are sex offenders and drug addicts. They aren’t receiving the more intensive services they need and the neighborhood has seen a steep decline in safety.
But some people — who feel residents have been insufficiently welcoming to this new cohort — think they have the answer: not mental health outreach or help with hygiene, but compassion.
We’re in an era of intense virtue signaling, with ever intense competition to display your progressiveness on social media. Conformity of thought is paramount and displaying the right opinions, again and again to your captive audience, is key. And nothing says “I care” more than dismissing the safety concerns of your neighbors. Even discussing crime is suspect.
Take the newly formed group Upper West Siders for a Compassionate, Safe and Equitable Community, which wrote welcome messages in chalk outside the Lucerne. OK, but surely that can’t be the extent of their “compassion?” No, of course not. They’ve also started an online petition at Change.org. Though what they are requesting is unclear since the document has no demands other than imploring neighbors worried about their personal safety — including those who have recently joined the Guardian Angels and, by patrolling the streets to discourage midday open drug use and flashing, are actually doing something — to stop being so mean.
In the Daily News, Lauren-Brooke Eisen, director of the justice program at the Brennan Center for Justice, proclaimed the hotel-homeless shelter program “a win-win” and said the controversy is “a litmus test for our progressive swath of Manhattan.”
Eisen doesn’t entertain any of the concerns raised by Upper West Siders — about public urination, overdoses, open-air shooting up, indecent exposure — instead noting the “spike in 311 complaints in the area about homeless individuals appears to be alarmist.” Caring about your children being offered crack, something one parent reported happening at Riverside Park, fails the litmus test, apparently.
But who is really being compassionate? It makes no sense to stick people in need of help into a place where they aren’t offered any.
Actual compassion would mean fighting with the Department of Homeless Services to get these people what they need instead of making chalk drawings. Actual compassion would be challenging elected officials to do something to get the social services in place for these men.
It would also help if there was anything resembling a public plan. How long will these hotels be in use in this way? A source told The Post the contract is through October but would likely be renewed. The Lucerne shows as fully booked through the end of November but if you would like to visit the first weekend in December it will cost $274.
The compassion police say they are Upper West Siders, too, and want their views represented.
The truth about living in New York is that a block is a small town and you may know nothing at all about what is happening just a few “towns” over.
The Upper West Side extends from Central Park South to 110th Street and from Central Park West to the Hudson River. The Lucerne, where some homeless men are being temporarily housed is on West 79th Street and Amsterdam. The Hotel Belleclaire on West 77th and Broadway. The Belnord on West 86th and Broadway.
More than 200,000 people live on the Upper West Side — during normal times. Those chalking the ground outside the hotel could easily be Upper West Siders who live nowhere near these three hotels.
Eisen proclaims herself an Upper West Sider but doesn’t note if she’s actually in the vicinity of these hotels. A friend who lives seven blocks south of the Lucerne told me she’s noticed a small uptick in the homeless population but nothing like what people who reside near the hotels are experiencing.
It would help if those arguing forming shelters in hotels is a “necessary short-term solution that benefits us all” would be specific about how much it actually affects them or their families. It’s easy to be compassionate when the situation isn’t taking place on your stoop.
It’s also easy to call NIMBYism on the neighborhood affectionately referred to as “Moscow on the Hudson,” but the “not in my backyard” label doesn’t fit perfectly this time.
Should the city be dumping troubled people in hotels and feeling as if their job is done? Most Upper West Siders wouldn’t want that happening in any backyard anywhere.
We’re so singularly focused on stopping COVID-19, clearly a worthwhile goal, that we have ignored all of the side problems that come with haphazardly forming policies around it. That has to end if the city will recover from this very dark period.
There are two groups of proud New Yorkers right now: those who acknowledge the giant problems exploding on our streets and those who shut down any discussion of those problems with labels like “racist.” We have to come together as communities in, yes, compassion and find actual solutions to the problems COVID-19 and its aftermath have wrought.
“If we want to build a truly just society, we must be willing to stand up for those values in our own neighborhood,” concludes the petition from the YIMBYs.
But if you want to build a truly just society you must also be willing to do the hard work of finding real solutions and not just dismissing the concerns of your neighbors. What is happening on the Upper West Side is not that.
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