Dehumanizing the homeless must stop

While the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our city is complex and far-reaching, the guiding principle behind our collective response to it must remain unchanged: Do everything we can to save lives. Whatever successes we have had toward that end have been the result of decisions based on both clear-eyed rationality and basic human compassion.

That’s why it is so distressing to hear voices of callous intolerance in neighborhoods like the Upper West Side, where a number of homeless individuals have been temporarily relocated in order to protect them from this deadly virus. “Deadly” is not an exaggeration: The age-adjusted mortality rate for homeless single adults sleeping in congregate shelters is in fact 79 percent higher than it is for New Yorkers as a whole.

What Happened When Homeless Men Moved Into a Liberal Neighborhood


The guests arrived at the Lucerne Hotel, two blocks from Central Park, carrying their belongings, stepping off buses and filling the hotel’s empty rooms, which typically cost more than $200 a night

They were not tourists nor business travelers but residents of homeless shelters whom the city sent to the Lucerne to contain the spread of the coronavirus in the crowded shelter system. Over three days, 283 men moved into the hotel.

How to Combat NIMBYism in Your Neighborhood

Too often, communities react to the news of a shelter opening nearby with resistance, as they rely on harmful stereotypes of our homeless neighbors.

We’ve seen this happen recently. Over the past few months – and thanks to relentless advocacy by the Coalition for the Homeless and others – the City has been moving some homeless New Yorkers from crowded congregate shelters into hotels where they can be better protected from the coronavirus. At the same time, against the Coalition’s advice, Gov. Cuomo shut down the subways between 1 and 5 a.m. every night, pushing homeless New Yorkers out of the transit system without offering them a safer place to go. This forced homeless people to make the choice between crowded congregate shelters and the streets – two terrible options amidst a virus spread via contact with other people. For their own safety, many chose to stay on the street. Unfortunately, in the midst of a public health crisis and economic upheaval, the increased visibility of homeless people in certain neighborhoods has led to some negative reactions and at times racist, classist rhetoric.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

We are all experiencing the devastating effects of this pandemic, none moreso than our most vulnerable neighbors. Here are some tips for combating NIMBYism in your neighborhood and creating a more welcoming community for all.

1. Talk to your new neighbors.

Create a welcoming community and break down boundaries by getting to know your new neighbors and asking if there’s anything they need.

2. Speak out in support.

Through social media, community meetings, and writing to local news outlets, show that you support your homeless neighbors. Check out this op-ed from an Upper West Sider for an example of how to do this effectively.

3. Contact the shelter or local community groups.

Reach out to the shelter or related advocacy organizations in your area to see how you can help make the shelter residents feel welcome. That’s exactly what our 2019 Compassionate Communities Award winners did in Chelsea and Clinton/Hell’s Kitchen.

4. Create a “Welcome Committee.”

Find other people who want to be welcoming, either through an online group, a petition, a faith community, or some other means. There’s strength in numbers – use it for good.

5. Advocate for solutions.

While temporary hotel placements have been lifesaving for some homeless New Yorkers, they are not permanent solutions to the city’s housing crisis. Contact elected officials and call for policies like investments in supportive and affordable housing to address the root causes of homelessness. Here is some more information about the root causes of homelessness.

Looking for some inspiration? Coalition for the Homeless’ Compassionate Communities award winners are all great examples of how to welcome and support our homeless neighbors. Check out the work they’ve done in their communities here.

Want to share these tips with your friends on social media? Download our shareable graphics here or share them on Instagram.

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