An interesting schism is taking place on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Spurred by coronavirus precautions, the City’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, chose to provide shelter for hundreds of previously homeless and drug-addicted men in the luxury boutique Lucerne and Belleclaire Hotels; the Lucerne is owned by Jewish philanthropist and activist Sam Domb, and the Belleclaire by philanthropist Shimmie Horn. This move was intended to offer these men a safe place to reside as the city went into full lockdown. Now, after months in what was always meant as a temporary accommodation, the City is attempting to move the men to a permanent facility located downtown at 52 William Street, a facility that offers single-occupancy rooms, outdoor recreation space and better access to critical resources and support services.
The relocation of the men has been pushed by a local community group called the West Side Community Organization (WSCO). The organization was formed after a wider group of concerned mothers recognized the failings of the Belleclaire and Lucerne when it came to properly caring for its temporary residents and sought to identify a proper, permanent shelter for them once pandemic restrictions were eased. As a luxury hotel, experts agreed that the facilities at the Upper West Side hotel are not conducive for this population long term. Their suggestions to the mayor and city government were well received and a move was scheduled for late October.
Simple enough, right? Think again.
In a beautifully ironic microcosm of American discourse, an opposition group emerged to challenge the move. Composed of Manhattanites hailing from what seems to be every neighborhood but the UWS, and self-titled Upper West Side Open Hearts, this group is fighting to keep the men where they are to avoid further disrupting their daily routines.
Now after months of back-and-forth, the fight has turned dirty. In recent news reports, members of UWS Open Hearts have decided to expand their rhetoric to insults and name calling. Declaring that the mothers of WSCO are nothing but racist, NIMBY elitist’s that simply want the men out of their neighborhood. What they also did was resort to age-old antisemitic canards, with Jews pitted against Jews, turning the advocacy for homeless rights into a litmus test on how Jews treat people of color.
In one article, an advocate for the homeless to remain living in the Lucerne and Belleclaire hotels, writer and actor Leslie Kendall Dye, described the Jews who oppose her position, as a “shanda”, (an embarrassment).
“A neighborhood populated by historically oppressed people simply cannot be hateful toward another historically oppressed people. We must remember the kinship that moved rabbis to sit on the board of the NAACP, and Jews to become freedom riders… I want my fellow Jews to recognize that integration is a moral imperative and beneficial for all parties.”
And unfortunately, it seems that the rhetoric is now inciting violence. On October 21, lead attorney for WSCO, former NYC Deputy Mayor Randy Mastro’s house was vandalized by a coordinated band of masked criminals. They spray-painted his home, threw red paint on his door, and superglued his locks. Phrases like “shame” and “you can’t replace us” were painted on the sidewalk and walls in the act that is currently being investigated.
The most startling aspect of all this is how the local media continues to cover the fracas. Almost as if it were a page out of the 2020 presidential elections, media continue to give an open platform to the leaders of Upper West Side Open Hearts and continue to publish their unfounded declarations of racism and elitism, while demonizing the WSCO group as hateful racists.
Even as the WSCO group has made their objective abundantly clear – to see that the men being cared for are moved from a temporary facility that lacks the infrastructure to support them to a facility currently designated for permanent residence – those opposed continue to ignore the actual rationale and facts being presented. WSCO, the mayor of the City and qualified people who have worked in social service environments for many years, contend that the Financial District facility would provide the men with better resources to fight their addictions, the structure to seek out and obtain employment and single-occupancy rooms that will keep them safe through the continuation of the Coronavirus pandemic. To keep the men in their current location on the Upper West Side would be detrimental to their health.
The boutique hotels on the UWS are single-occupancy facilities, and yet men are sharing rooms during a pandemic and have the ability to lock their doors from the inside – making it difficult for first responders and people providing vital services to gaining access if the need arises. Homeless shelters for addicts do not have locking doors.
Instead, Open Hearts simply states that relocating the men is racist; making it about black and Hispanic people, not about at-risk, substance abusers, some sexual offenders and petty criminals. WestCo counters, and asserts that leaving vulnerable homeless men in shared rooms while the second wave of a pandemic rages is the real human rights violation.
The issue has yet to be resolved. The men currently reside in the boutique hotels, and the issue is now being litigated in court. The city and Department of Homeless Services think the move is in the men’s best interest, but according to Open Hearts they are all racist classists. It seems fitting, as when the chips are down, labeling people racists and more, hateful Jews who fail to act “as Jews are supposed to”, has worked to frighten opposition. We know how effective this has become in this new cancel culture era.
Maybe it’s time Open Hearts received a stent because it seems their “hearts” are only open to those who agree with them.