City Can Move Homeless Men to Financial District Hotel, Judge Rules

The city will soon move some 200 men to the Radisson at 52 William Street, with plans to turn the hotel into a permanent shelter for homeless families. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Nov. 27, 2020

UPDATE DEC. 3: Downtown New Yorkers, Inc., issued a statement late this afternoon saying that the Appellate Divsion of the State Supreme Court granted its appeal for a stay, temporarily preventing the city from moving the homeless men Downtown to the Radisson Hotel from The Lucerne on the Upper West Side. The stay is in effect, the group said, "until a five-judge Appelate Division panel can consider the case on Monday, December 14. That penel will decide whether the preliminary injunction should be issue to prevent the move until the appeal is decided."

The city can go ahead with its plan to move some 200 homeless men from their current residence at the Lucerne hotel on the Upper West Side to the Radisson at 52 Williams Street, a judge ruled on Wednesday.

The decision, by State Supreme Court Judge Debra A. James, comes more than a month after granting a temporary restraining order sought by three Lucerne residents who oppose the move. Downtown New Yorkers, Inc., a group of Financial District residents, had petitioned for the initial temporary restraining order, which was at first denied, then reversed after the intervention and testimony of the three Lucerne men. 

The Downtown group had quickly organized in late September after the city announced that it would move the men to the Radisson and, after the pandemic, convert the building to a permanent homeless shelter for adult families.

“We are hurt,” Shams DaBaron, a Lucerne resident and spokesman for the men who oppose the move, said in a statement following the decision. But the case, he added, “was not as much about the Lucerne as about homeless people being able to challenge the city and its agencies in regards to their well being…”

The men at the Lucerne have already been moved three or more times since the city emptied its congregate shelters in the spring, and DaBaron and other opponents of the move said the change of temporary residence could destabilize and traumatize the men, many of whom are working to manage substance use and mental illness, as well as looking for jobs and permanent housing. 

The judge said the court lacks jurisdiction over the homeless mens’ petition and ruled that Downtown New Yorkers Inc. doesn’t have standing to challenge the move.

Michael Hiller, the lawyer representing the men, said his clients are “considering their options.” 

“Words cannot express how I feel about this decision greenlighting the City’s forcible relocation of the homeless residents of the Lucerne on the day before Thanksgiving,” Hiller said in a statement.  “All I can say right now is that I disagree with the decision.”

In a statement, Downtown New Yorkers Inc., said they were “deeply disappointed” by the decision and will appeal.

No move-in date has been announced but city officials have begun working with service providers to prepare for the transition, city Law Department spokesman Nick Paolucci said in a statement. ”Were pleased with the Court’s decision, which will allow the City to continue providing critical services to those who need it most in the way we believe is most effective,” Paolucci said. 

Awaiting the arrival of men to the Radisson is Friends of FiDi, a group formed on Facebook that intends to greet the men to the neighborhood with welcome kits, neighborhood tours and other services. “We want to show them the best of FiDi,” said Tiffany Winbush, one of the group's founders. 

Friends of FiDi was modeled after UWS Open Hearts Initiative, which has provided substance abuse programs, winter clothing drives, and other services to the men of the Lucerne. “My own feeling is profound disappointment” said Ian Alterman, a minister and volunteer at UWS Open Hearts who has bonded closely with the Lucerne’s residents.

The West Side Community Organization (WestCo), a group that had made quality of life complaints about the Lucerne and its residents, applauded the judge’s decision. “Hundreds of New York’s homeless men will now be living in a proper facility with all the necessary on-site services in FiDi,” Megan Martin, the group’s president, said in a statement.  

The city first announced the move to the Radisson after WestCo retained lawyer Randy Mastro, and threatened to sue. Opponents of the move have claimed that it was political pressure, not the interests of the Lucerne residents, that led to Mayor de Blasio's decision to move the men Downtown.

“The only time the city should be engaged in moving people out of shelter is when they are moving people into a permanent home,” said Áine Duggan, president and CEO of The Partnership for the Homeless. Duggan said the decision created instability for a vulnerable population that had already been traumatized by moving before.

According to DaBaron, life at the Lucerne has helped the men. He said 30 of the residents managed to find permanent housing while others have benefited from programs provided by UWS Open Hearts, and Goddard Riverside, which is offered community service jobs through a $500,000 grant.

Despite the setback, DaBaron said he is looking ahead to when he and the other residents move to the Financial District. “We will be inviting those downtown with questions to get to know us as neighbors in the coming days,” he said in his statement, and open the door to work together to ensure everyone’s needs are addressed.”