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Hell’s Kitchen businesses and residents are petitioning for the removal of homeless occupants from local hotels. Petitioners are careful to point out this is not an issue caused by the homeless. The issue is the city delivering thousands of people to the area with no support plan (or a plan that’s failed). Added to this, NYPD seem either unwilling, or don’t have the power, to deal with the issues.
Nick Accardi, who owns multiple businesses in the area (including Tavola, Tavolina, and Vito’s Slices & Ices on 9th Ave) started the petition after multiple incidents that threatened his staff and clients. He also had the front window of his restaurant, Tavola, smashed in. The burglary netted a roll of quarters for the perpetrator.
“The issue here is not about the homeless. It’s about the high proportion of people introduced to this area en masse who are drug addicts, mentally ill, or criminally insane,” Nick told us. “We’re empathetic. Over the last 25 years my family and staff have supported with food, money, and time local to organizations that help the homeless. Homelessness has always been part of the area, but this is out of control.”
The frustrations continue when Nick deals with the police: “The cops came by to follow up on the break in and told us, ‘There’s nothing we can do. The Mayor’s office has told us to lay back and not to touch these people. If we do, we could actually get put in jail.'”
These views are not just Nick’s. It’s the experience of many neighbors who have signed the petition. “On my corner by Boxers, in the early afternoon a young couple were out cold from their fix of heroin. The needle was still in his arm and hers still in her hand,” Lisa Roman-Santana told us. “I flagged the cops who were around the corner. They pulled up, flashed the lights, hit the siren, and that was all. The couple remained there for all to see (including young children). I am so disgusted with the crime in our neighborhood.”
I never would have imagined that I’d have to wait on line at Esposito’s while keeping one hand on my Mace canister.
The petition is to “Demand your right to quality of life in Hell’s Kitchen! Close the homeless shelters in our neighborhood now!” Up to today it has gained the support of over 700 locals online, and over 150 more in paper copies at local businesses.
Peter Shankman signed up to the petition at Esposito’s Meat Market on 9th Ave: “I never would have imagined that I’d have to wait on line at Esposito’s while keeping one hand on my Mace canister because not one, but two homeless people were screaming at us from across the street. This is what it was like in the ’70s when I was in school in New York. I’ve got a seven-year-old daughter now. I’ve had to explain to her at least twice a week that it’s OK, we’re not in danger. I hope I’m not lying to her.”
Other petitioners tell similar personal horror stories.
Putting a large concentration of homeless shelters that serve ex-cons, drug addicts etc in a residential neighborhood is ill-advised at best and, at worst, criminally negligent.
“I am scared to go out with my son. He’s a special needs kid with Down Syndrome. He’s a very sensitive boy and now refuses to go out for a walk because he’s afraid,” petitioned Zoey B. “When I walk on the street, they always bother me and ask for money. They smoke marijuana, they do drugs, and they scream. Please do something.”
One anonymous petitioner said: “As a young, disabled woman, I do not feel safe being outside with the rampant criminal behavior that has plagued our neighborhood. Putting a large concentration of homeless shelters that serve ex-cons, drug addicts etc in a residential neighborhood is ill-advised at best and, at worst, criminally negligent given the DHS failure to provide appropriate mental health and addiction services. The clients of these shelters are the worst social distancing offenders, with not a mask in sight.”
There is no shortage of petitioners who recognize the wider issues, and want a solution that works for all. This person wrote: “Of course all people deserve shelter, but they also need programs, health care, and support, healing, and love. Cramming people together who have suffered trauma, abuse, and pain since childhood into shelters in a neighborhood without these services, programs, and care in place is not fair to the collective of people in the shelters nor the community where the shelters are. How about creating more jobs for social workers, healers, teachers, carers in order to help these people? The city needs to support more people to support more people … it would be win win for all.”
It’s hard to explain to a six-year-old why a man with a needle in his arm is yelling at his dad for no reason.
Maria Lanza has owned David Ryan Salon on W46th St for 20 years. “Never in all these years have I seen so many homeless, drugged, crazy people walking around the neighborhood, harassing people in broad daylight,” she said. “I’m now afraid to leave work late at night and always have someone stay with me. It’s ridiculous that we’ve come so far to make Hell’s Kitchen a great place to live and work and in the blink of an eye we are going backwards.”
“As a front-line healthcare worker who helped New York during the height of the COVID crisis, I am unable to continue to live in the area in which I have been threatened with death several times,” said Aaron B. “It’s hard to explain to a six-year-old why a man with a needle in his arm is yelling at his dad for no reason. This is the worst it’s been by an order of magnitude in the 15 years I have lived in the neighborhood. It’s clear that the residents of this neighborhood are not important to the city, which is a terrible oversight.”
“We got 2,000 homeless people dumped in a three-block radius. The area already houses a needle exchange and methadone clinics. What was the city thinking?” said Nick Accardi, referring to the issues on 9th Ave between 35th and 42nd St. “Just to stay open, it’s costing me money, and now I am afraid for my life.
“This was never a Shangri-La. In the eight years since I opened Tavola, I’ve seen improvements in the area. But now it’s exploded. In front of these hotels, we have empty mattresses, chairs, and barbecue pits that are lit up. If you go near these people, they scream at you and they spit at you. It’s insane.”
The DSS will not confirm the locations of the homeless shelters, as those staying there are protected by law – although it’s the worse kept secret in the city. Nick is calling for “finality on when this is going to end.
“We need to know when they will be gone. Next week, next month, six months, next year, never?” He’s worried about the future: “This neighborhood won’t survive a year of this, these hotels, these restaurants, we might as well just close and leave.”
The news that the Washington Jefferson Hotel on W51st St had dropped out of the homeless program and reverted to being a hotel gives hope for many. However, it was unclear whether that was a decision made by the hotel or the city because of the veil of secrecy surrounding the troubled initiative.
In response to a request for comment from Corey Johnson, last night a City Council spokesperson told us: “Unfortunately, New York City was in the midst of a homeless crisis before COVID-19 hit, and the crisis has grown exponentially. Our city is grappling with many tough issues right now, but homelessness must be at the top of the list.”
Our initial report on the homeless situation back on July 10 focused on the Cachet Hotel. Then, Corey Johnson said: “Working to solve the homelessness crisis has been a priority of mine for my entire career and earlier this year I put out a robust plan that I believe would create real progress. Unfortunately, the virus had other plans, and now the city’s responsibility to protect the most vulnerable among us has created new issues. The de Blasio administration can and must do better. My office is working around the clock with business owners, Hell’s Kitchen residents, DHS, and service providers to improve things, and we will continue to do so until we solve this problem.“
Residents are reporting back: not only is there no improvement – it’s getting worse.
Despite a small success with increased policing from NYPD’s 10th Precinct, the 8for8 program (an extra eight cops assigned to foot patrol for eight weeks), driven by The Hell’s Kitchen Neighborhood Action Committee, when the police are around they seem impotent to deal with situations.
You can find the petition here.
UPDATES. At the time of publications we had requested but not received comments from City Hall, NYPD, Hudson Yards Hell’s Kitchen Alliance as well as those involved with managing local hotels during this time. We will update this story as we get responses.
Lowell Kern, Chair of Manhattan Community Board 4 told us: “We are very aware of the situation that the Tavola petition seeks redress for. The board has held multiple committee meetings, participated in agency meetings, and attended site visits on this topic. The board has voted to request to reduce and or relocate specific problem locations including West 36 Street. Recently, as demanded by MCB4, and with the support of our elected representatives, a temporary shelter at the WJ Hotel on West 51st St has been relocated. The number of clients temporarily sheltered in hotels between West 36 & West 37 Street is a further example of the administration’s lack of communication and planning on issues that directly impact the community. We will continue to advocate for a thoughtful and balanced approach to this issue.”