Coalition for the Homeless Calls on Mayor de Blasio to Reverse Flatlands Plan

De Blasio administration’s misguided plan to empty the Lucerne Hotel and the Long Island City Plaza Hotel would needlessly disrupt the lives of families during an already-turbulent back-to-school season

NEW YORK CITY – September 18, 2020 – Today, the Coalition for the Homeless along with elected officials, homeless services providers, and homeless advocates called on the de Blasio administration to officially reverse a plan that would displace homeless families from the Flatlands Family Residence. Following outcry from advocates and elected officials, the City recently announced a temporary halt on their plan, but the 90 families at Flatlands remain in limbo as the City determines their fate. Abruptly moving homeless children – and their parents – from Flatlands would only further exacerbate the extreme injustice and inequality they have already experienced in their short lives.

In addition to taking away a stable shelter environment, this displacement would pull children out of Bound for Success (BFS), a vital program operated by the Coalition for the Homeless at the Flatlands shelter that provides one-on-one tutoring and afterschool programming. BFS has been a source of support and stability for children and for overwhelmed parents – many of whom are single mothers. Uprooting families, especially at the beginning of an already-turbulent school year where families at Flatlands have been struggling to access remote learning, is inhumane and unacceptable.

This proposed displacement is one consequence of Mayor de Blasio’s shameful decision to capitulate to the intolerant and racist NIMBY voices of some community neighbors by relocating residents of the men’s shelter at the Lucerne Hotel on West 79th Street and residents of the women’s shelter at the Long Island City Plaza Hotel in Queens. Needlessly shuffling homeless New Yorkers between facilities and boroughs would result in increased suffering in the midst of a pandemic that has already devastated far too many lives. The age-adjusted mortality rate for homeless New Yorkers in shelters is significantly higher than it is for the city as a whole, and today there are more single adults sleeping in shelters than at any time in history. The use of hotels saves lives, and this move by the de Blasio administration jeopardizes the safety of the most vulnerable among us.

We have already seen the domino effect of this ill-conceived order to empty the hotels, as families in the Flatlands Family Residence in Brooklyn and Harmonia Shelter in Manhattan have been told they will be moved elsewhere to make room for the displaced hotel residents.

Last week, the Coalition for the Homeless sent a letter to Mayor de Blasio to express our dismay at his inexplicable plan to disrupt the lives of hundreds of homeless New Yorkers. The letter can be read here. New Yorkers can add their voice to the calls to allow people experiencing homelessness to remain in hotels during the pandemic by taking action here.

“Mayor de Blasio ordered these hotels emptied not for any legitimate public health reason, but rather as a capitulation to those members of the community who have openly spouted intolerance toward our neighbors experiencing homelessness. He has made life far more difficult for hundreds of homeless families and individuals struggling to survive this pandemic, and in the process created a tremendously dangerous precedent by empowering NIMBYist activism for years to come. The decision is not only baffling, it is unconscionable,” said Dave Giffen, Executive Director of the Coalition for the Homeless. “Our homeless neighbors need our help and our support, especially at the start of the already-chaotic school year in the middle of a deadly pandemic. During this exceedingly difficult time, we need leaders who will make the hard choices and protect the lives and wellbeing of those most in danger, who will enact sensible policies that heed the advice of public health experts, and who will fight for humane solutions that offer a greater chance for our homeless neighbors to find stability.”


“The Mayor’s decisions are affecting real people, with real lives, not pieces on a board to be moved around,” said Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams. “Homelessness is a citywide issue, it needs citywide solutions, and needlessly displacing people who are struggling isn’t a solution to the crisis of homelessness but a way to ignore it. Especially amid a pandemic, these actions are inexcusable.”


“At a time when our city is still facing a public health crisis and an affordability crisis, we should not be putting homeless New Yorkers out on the streets in their time of need,” said New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer. “We are at a pivotal moment that demands leadership from our public officials; the City should be making decisions based on sound housing policy and public health policy, and doing the work to engage communities about the impacts of those decisions. I stand with the Coalition for the Homeless, homeless service providers, advocates, and elected officials in calling on the Mayor to reverse his plan to remove homeless families from the Flatlands Family Residence, and will continue fighting for justice for our most vulnerable New Yorkers.”


“I stand with local leaders, the Legal Aid Society, and homeless advocates to protect our neighbors at Flatlands Family Residence,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. “The only place these families should be moved is permanent housing. They deserve stability. As someone who was almost homeless as a kid, it’s personal for me.”


“Homeless families are not chess pieces to be moved around, they are human beings and fellow New Yorkers. It is something we are dealing with most acutely at the Harmonia Shelter here in Manhattan where there continues to be a lot of uncertainty for homeless families,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. “To needlessly disrupt the lives of families in the middle of a pandemic is unconscionable.”


“This displacement of the families at the Flatlands Family Residence is part of the domino effect of the closure of the men’s shelter at the Lucerne Hotel on West 79th Street, where white Upper West Side residents engaged a high-powered lawyer who threatened to bring a lawsuit against the City and resulted in the closing of the men’s shelter,” said New York City Council Member Inez Barron, Chair of the Council Committee on Higher Education. “This is an act of ‘NIMBY,’ ‘not-in-my-back-yard.’ Everyone is entitled to decent, affordable housing, and these families should be put into permanent housing. However, to disperse these families throughout the city, especially during a pandemic, and just prior to the opening of the schools, will destabilize, increase the trauma, and add to the crises for these families.”


“The Mayor has shown a callous disregard for families experiencing homelessness and he should immediately reverse his ill-thought-out transfer plan,” said New York City Council Member Stephen Levin, Chair of the Council Committee on General Welfare. “Families living at the Flatlands Family Residence need support, not further instability, but due to the Mayor’s decision to displace residents from an Upper West Side hotel, hundreds of more New Yorkers experiencing homelessness have been put in limbo. This disruption in people’s lives is especially concerning during a public health crisis and uncertain start to the school year. I am proud to stand with the Coalition for the Homeless and our homeless neighbors in calling for an end to this displacement.”


“As the city’s school children prepare for remote learning, the last thing they need is to have their lives upended with the threat of being relocated from their homes,” said New York City Council Member Rafael Salamanca, Chair of the Council Committee on Land Use. “What makes this situation even more frustrating is that this is a direct result of the Mayor’s willingness to give in to the NIMBYism of affluent communities. Enough is enough! I stand with the local officials and advocates in calling on the administration to immediately reverse course and show the respect due to the families who reside at the Flatlands Family Residence.”


“The homeless shelter shell game in response to political pressures about the Lucerne is more than just a shake up at the Harmonia and Flatlands, it’s upending people’s lives during a crisis. Like the Harmonia, Flatlands is a stable environment, with wrap around services relied on by many of the residents. The decision to move people from one place to another should be done in a more thoughtful and time sensitive manner,” said New York City Council Member Keith Powers, Chair of the Council Committee on Criminal Justice.


“I stand with the Coalition for the Homeless to urge the Mayor to reverse any plans to displace families in shelters, creating additional challenges for students and families in temporary housing. Approximately 114,000 students are in temporary housing. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, these students were chronically absent at alarming rates and had one of the lowest graduation rates of any student group. This threat to their housing will only add extraordinary trauma to a vulnerable population. If the City fails to take action to support students and their families who are homeless, we risk adding to a cycle of poverty and missed opportunities,” said New York City Council Member Mark Treyger, Chair of the Council Committee on Education.


“The Mayor’s decision to remove homeless women from the Long Island City Plaza hotel is disgraceful,” said New York City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, Chair of the Council Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries, and International Intergroup Relations. “Saying that he was doing so in response to complaints from Queensbridge residents makes it even worse. These decisions were driven by placating wealthy residents on the Upper West Side who simply don’t want to see the homeless. I oppose moving these women out of the LIC Plaza and the truth is, so do most of my constituents.”


“The Mayor needs to stop messing with New York City’s homeless families and focus on finding them proper housing,” said New York City Council Member Ben Kallos, Chair of the Council Committee on Contracts. “The children at the Flatlands Family Residence should not fall into this game of musical chairs the City is playing with homeless people. These kids are about to head back to school, they are homeless and dealing with a pandemic, why is the city choosing to make things even harder for them. Displacing families is never the right option, why has the Mayor not learned that yet. When are we going to start focusing on helping our homeless instead of using them as pawns.”


“It’s abundantly clear now that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s pathetic surrender to some Upper West Side racist NIMBYists has caused and continues to cause problems for other homeless New Yorkers – individuals with disabilities, families, and young children – across our city’s shelter system,” said Judith Goldiner, Attorney-in-Charge of the Civil Law Reform Unit at The Legal Aid Society. “Families, especially those at Flatlands Family Residence, are about to start in-person instruction at school, and uprooting them now is simply callous and will create additional anxiety for families during this perilous time. We urge Mayor de Blasio to cease his plan to move families from Flatlands at once.”


“The Mayor’s plan is especially reprehensible when students are just beginning a new school year. This cruelly leaves families with an impossible choice – transfer to an unfamiliar school or spend hours that could otherwise be devoted to schoolwork commuting for in-person days. The Mayor must reverse this decision and instead focus on helping homeless children to maintain a sense of stability ahead of an unprecedented and difficult school year,” said Christine C. Quinn, President and CEO of Win.


“The Mayor’s ill-considered decision to kowtow to wealthy communities and displace homeless shelter residents from lifesaving hotels is already having disastrous consequences,” said Catherine Trapani, Executive Director of Homeless Services United. “Shelters (including programs run in hotels during the pandemic) are not simply a place to sleep, they are also service rich program environments where residents make connections to case managers, housing specialists, and counselors, as well as educational enrichment services like Bound for Success and Girl Scouts Troop 6000. To dislocate those who are already suffering multiple traumas of homelessness, in the midst of a global pandemic – a week before school starts – is incredibly cruel and disruptive, and threatens progress made towards stability and successfully transitioning to housing. We call upon the Mayor to reverse the decision and allow all shelter residents the opportunity to remain in their current shelter placements until they are able to transition to permanent housing.”


“Continually displacing and destabilizing people prevents them from progressing, causes severe trauma, and in the long run, costs more,” said Peter Malvan, leader with the Safety Net Activists. “Children’s schools, lives, supports, and medical providers in the community will all be disrupted. For years, DHS has shuffled people around their systems as if they were pieces of property with little regard for people’s lives and rights. This displacement is a form of abuse that has severe long-term impacts on both children and adults and must be immediately stopped.”


“The Mayor’s cowardly concession to a small, wealthy contingency of individuals who have used fear mongering and racist rhetoric to dehumanize the homeless is one of his many actions that undermines his campaign promise to end the ‘tale of two cities.’ It is even more disturbing that the Mayor is willing to displace homeless families at the beginning of an unprecedented school year in the midst of a global pandemic. We stand in solidarity with homeless New Yorkers across the city – they are not pawns in a political chess game. They are our neighbors who deserve some semblance of stability as they work to get back on their feet and exit the shelter system,” said Amy Blumsack, Director of Organizing and Policy at Neighbors Together.


“It is the height of cowardice to kick children out of their shelters at the start of the school year,” said Joe Loonam, Housing Campaigns Coordinator at VOCAL-NY. “Our Mayor’s actions make it clear he is far more concerned with appeasing racists and reactionaries than coming up with ways to get folks into permanent housing.”


“All plans to move people experiencing homelessness out of hotels must be immediately suspended,” said Beth Goldman, President & Attorney-In-Charge of New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG). “They were moved into hotels to protect them, and all of us, from the spread of COVID during the duration of the pandemic. Unfortunately, the pandemic is far from over. It appears that the decision to move people prematurely stems from the City’s putting the interest of some affluent neighborhood residents over public health and the well-being of New Yorkers who urgently need a safe and secure haven during this pandemic. We at NYLAG call on Mayor de Blasio to halt all plans that will displace individuals and families experiencing homelessness and will only promote the further spread of COVID.”


“It is alarming that in the midst of a citywide embrace of the Black Lives Matter movement, the Mayor can paint a mural on the street in support but not stand up for those who are affected directly right now by racist, NIMBYist people under the guise of a neighborhood watch,” said Charles King, Chief Executive Officer of Housing Works. “Consistent, stable housing has been proven time and time again to be a primary factor in positive health outcomes, particularly for people experiencing homelessness. We are in the midst of a pandemic and the already dangerous shelter system is rendered that much more deadly by COVID-19. We call upon the Mayor to make real changes in the form of providing wraparound services in hotels, providing more outreach workers and better public facilities, and not this response to the worst tendencies of people who are fearful of the reality of tens of thousands of homeless New Yorkers.“


“It is unconscionable that, in the midst of a pandemic and economic devastation, the City would disrupt the lives of our most vulnerable neighbors in favor of keeping the privileged few comfortable,” said Jennifer March, Executive Director of Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York, a leading organization of the Family Homelessness Coalition. “Every New Yorker deserves to have a roof over their head and in these dire times, the need has never been greater. We urge the Mayor not to displace homeless individuals and families as they already have endured the trauma of housing instability. Disrupting the lives of single individuals, parents, and children at a time like this will only lead to greater risk to their health, safety, and wellbeing when it comes to staying protected from COVID-19, landing or keeping a job, and for children, engaging in education. Homeless New Yorkers need our full support, efforts to shuffle them around must stop.”


The Family Homelessness Coalition released the following statement: “New York City finds itself at the epicenter of multiple crises: a historic public health pandemic, a profound economic crisis, and persistent inequality rooted in racism. Today in New York City, there are over 54,000 individuals in the DHS shelter system, with the vast majority being mothers with children. Irrespective of household makeup, many people facing homelessness have experienced significant trauma which could include domestic violence, loss of connection to family or systems of support, or disruption from school or work, among others in addition to the trauma of homelessness itself. These stressors are now exacerbated by the public health threat of COVID-19, which has intensified social and economic stressors and increased social isolation, especially for households that are homeless. It is incumbent upon the City administration to ensure that shelter placement for all who are homeless is safe and stable, and that every effort is made to achieve permanent affordable housing as expeditiously as possible. This is critical as disruption or shuffling of shelter placement for individuals and families can impede or disrupt employment, negatively impact a child’s education, as well as impede access to services needed to get back on one’s feet. While the City administration is tasked with the awesome responsibility of responding to the persistent and heightened crisis of homelessness, they, as well as all City residents, need to recognize that New Yorkers who happen to be homeless have a fundamental right to shelter within this City and to the opportunity to rebuild their lives. The City should therefore refrain from unnecessary, disruptive transfers and allow shelter residents to remain stable in their current shelter placements for the duration of the pandemic or until permanent housing can be secured.”