country’s original sin of slavery, with white liberals everywhere suddenly activated against police violence and systematic racism. But here in supposedly progressive New York City—where Mayor Bill de Blasio personally helped paint the words “Black Lives Matter” on Fifth Avenue outside Trump Tower—wealthy Manhattanites on the Upper West Side are fighting to show homeless Black and Brown New Yorkers the door.
One of the writers of this piece, Corinne, is an Upper West Side mom, and a professor at The Wharton School who studies the economics of discrimination. The other, Shams, is a Black man experiencing homelessness, and a screenwriter and hip-hop pioneer, in recovery for alcoholism. We met when Shams—and other homeless New Yorkers—were moved out of congregate shelters and into private rooms at hotels throughout the city, including the Upper West Side’s Lucerne Hotel, to slow the spread of Covid-19. It was sound public health policy, driven by the need for social distancing and the recognition that since tourists weren’t returning to New York any time soon, vacant hotels could be used to save lives. Almost immediately shelter residents and supporters found ourselves fighting against a 15,000-member Facebook group and a 501(c)(4) calling themselves the West Side Community Organization. Rather than welcome their new neighbors, the group raised nearly $150,000 to hire Randy Mastro, a top litigator and former deputy mayor in the Giuliani administration, to drive homeless men from the neighborhood.