New York is moving homeless people into luxury hotels to protect them against coronavirus

People carry their belongings into the Lucerne Hotel in Manhattan's Upper West Side: Screengrab / CBS

New York was in the midst of a record homelessness crisis even before the coronavirus hit. Some 60,000 people were filling municipal shelters across the city every night. Nearly a third of that number was living in dorm-style facilities for single adults, sharing bathrooms, dining areas and sleeping facilities.

“When Covid struck, we recognised very quickly this was a recipe for disaster,” said Jacqueline Simone, of Coalition for the Homeless, a New York charity. The problem was only going to get worse, they warned, as the economic crisis caused by the pandemic deepened.

They, and other advocacy groups, asked the city to find new shelters for the homeless to protect them from the coronavirus outbreak. Using hotels, which were lying empty across the city due to the pandemic, were seen as a perfect solution. Some 139 commercial hotels quickly stepped forward, according to city authorities — including a number of luxury hotels in Manhattan.

But in recent days, residents of some wealthier areas of New York where some of the hotels are located have complained about what they describe as anti-social behaviour and drug use by homeless people in their neighbourhoods.

In the Upper West Side, where the median house price is more than $1.8m, some residents have started a Facebook group to express their displeasure over the use of three high-end hotels in the area.

“Our community is terrified, angry and frightened,” one member of the ‘Upper West Siders For Safer Streets’ group told the New York Post. Another community group board member from the same area reportedly told the Post that “it feels like the 1970s. Everyone who can move out is moving out.”

Tabloids have seized upon the increased visibility of homeless people in the neighbourhood, running photographs of groups of men gathering accompanied by outraged headlines.

The response from these residents to a temporary solution to protect the homeless in a pandemic has prompted a backlash from charities and city officials.