At the Quintessential Centrist, we typically do not post about hyper-local issues. Occasionally, however, a subject arises that is both important and a microcosm of a larger problem. Currently, many cities throughout our nation are dealing with increasing levels of homelessness amid the coronavirus pandemic. Indeed, the complexities of managing the homeless population during a public health crisis are enormous; the added stresses on local governments and affected neighborhoods, particularly acute. Manhattan’s Upper West Side (UWS) is indicative of what many communities in cities across America are suddenly grappling with.
To mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, The New York City Department of Homeless Services (DHS) relocated thousands of homeless people from crowded shelters into hotels and other dwellings located throughout the city. In Manhattan’s UWS, a pleasant, family orientated neighborhood, approximately 600 hundred homeless men were placed in three hotels: The Lucerne, The Bellnord & The Belleclaire. Many of the vagrants are drug addicts. Some are mentally ill and, at times, violent, especially when intoxicated. A few of the men are registered sex offenders. In fact, ~a dozen sex offenders are staying in The Belleclaire, a block from the local public school.
Since these men arrived, the following are a list of violations witnessed by concerned citizens residing nearby:
• Public lewdness
• Public urination
• Public intoxication
• Shooting drugs and discarding hypodermic needles on the street
• Aggressive panhandling
• Disturbing the peace
• Disorderly conduct
• Sexual harassment
NIMBY VS YIMBY
The result: what was once a “tolerant” neighborhood that resolved most differences amicably has become a tinderbox of anger, anxiety, and accusations. While the current situation might appear simple - one group does not want homeless people in their neighborhood, another group thinks homeless people have the right to shelter in the UWS - the reality is more complex.
To help frame the happenings and sentiment on the UWS, we have broken down its residents into separate buckets:
Bucket 1: The “not in my back yard” (NIMBY) folk. Residents in this bucket do not want homeless men in their neighborhood, period. In their view, the UWS is an expensive, family orientated enclave. Apartments are costly to purchase, rents are high, and the tax burden significant. In exchange for these outlays, these people expect a high quality of life, clean and safe streets, quality public schools and the right to live without crowds of homeless people. Anybody who argues otherwise is delusional and does not truly have an equity stake in their community. In short, “not in my back yard.”
Bucket 2: The “yes in my back yard” (YIMBY) folk. Residents in this bucket view housing for the homeless as a fundamental right. If a makeshift shelter must be situated in their neighborhood, so be it. If property values decrease, tough. If life is more difficult, it is still materially better than for the addicts living in the hotels nearby. Anybody who complains about a surge of homeless men residing in their communities are close minded and or racist. In short, “yes in my back yard.”
Bucket 3: Residents in this bucket believe that Upper West Siders (UWS's) should be empathetic, compassionate, and welcoming. They should not be precluded from having improvised homeless shelters in their community, but also insist on a degree of law and order on a level commensurate with that before the homeless men were relocated. If the aforementioned can be satisfied, they have no issue with the downtrodden taking refuge in their neighborhood. However, if the influx of homeless men results in a surge of crime, violence, and a materially compromised quality of life that is not addressed and rectified by lawmakers, they take exception.
TQC lives in Bucket #3. In our view, Upper West Siders who bluntly say, "we do not want homeless men here," are wrong. UWS’s who claim people are being racist for voicing concerns over homeless men – many of which are people of color – masturbating, urinating on the street and injecting drugs in broad daylight and having registered sex offenders living a block from a playground, are also wrong.
The DHS has an obligation to provide housing for the homeless and help keep them safe during the coronavirus pandemic. It should not matter if makeshift shelters are situated on Park Avenue or the South Bronx – the DHS has a right (and obligation) to provide for the homeless in any borough of New York City. That said, all New Yorkers have a right to a basic level of law and order irrespective of what neighborhood they reside in.
If the DHS moves homeless men, some of which are violent into residential communities, they must coordinate with city officials and law enforcement to ensure these communities are safe. They must be proactive, not reactive. Regrettably, given that New York’s current Mayor Bill de Blasio would have a difficult time knowing where to place a police officer or drug counselor on a Wednesday, even if he was privy to an early run of Thursday’s newspaper, the odds of efficient and effective communication, coordination and action, are long.
Dollars & Sense
The UWS is one of the most liberal bastions of the city. Their Congressman is Jerry Nader and city councilwoman is Helen Rosenthal. We would be remiss not to mention that over 80% of its residents who cared to vote, pulled the lever for Bill de Blasio (Nader & Rosenthal), the same mayor whose policies are unsettling and angering many of these same voters.
In response to the increasing levels of lawlessness and vagrancy throughout New York City, not surprisingly, many wealthy Upper West Siders (and all New Yorkers for that matter) have decamped to 2nd homes outside the city and or moved out of the state altogether. One might react by throwing up ones’ arms and saying, “so what, let em leave.” Bad idea. Despite what certain radical politicians espouse, a mass exodus of high earning New Yorkers is a serious problem, and one many of their constituents who they claim to care about (words are free), will endure the ramifications of. Here is why: the top 1% of NYC’s wage earners support 50% of its tax base. That is not a partisan statement; it is a fact. If too many of these taxpayers leave the city for safer locations, a fiscal death spiral will ensue: fewer high earning New Yorkers to support social services, which will lead to those services being cut, which will lead to politicians raising taxes in an attempt to plug a gaping budget deficit, which will drive even more higher earners out of the city, resulting in additional cuts to social services and materially less resources for the homeless people the DHS and certain politicians claim they are trying to help. We must all bear in mind: politicians often lie, math never does.
In addition to the three hotels on the UWS, 136 other hotels throughout NYC are currently being used to house ~13,000 homeless people that were previously living in shelters. Even though taxpayers are footing the bill, the de Blasio administration is refusing to release a comprehensive list of the venues, details surrounding the contract(s), or their cost. According to sources, the city is paying an average of $175 per person, per night. Multiply that by 13,000, it equates to $2,275,000 per day.
A disproportionate number of homeless people living in hotels throughout New York City are afflicted with drug and alcohol addiction. If the DHS and local politicians actually cared as much for these people as they say they do, and remind others that they should too, would it not make more sense to allocate $2,275,000 per day to place these homeless addicts in proper rehabilitation facilities throughout the United Stated instead of inefficiently warehousing them? In a proper treatment facility, these human beings can get the help they need and an opportunity to return to the community drug free, able bodied citizens ready to make a positive contribution to society.