The homeless men at the Four Points by Sheraton on W40th Street will today start their move back to homeless shelters in Brooklyn and the Bronx. Yesterday, they held a press conference to protest against the return to dormitory living.
As well as Four Points, the Department of Homeless Services confirmed that they will be “transitioning clients” out of the Skyline Hotel on 10th Avenue, Watson Hotel on W57th Street and the Hilton Garden Times Square on W37th Street in Hell’s Kitchen, starting this week.
“COVID is still out there. We’ve got the Delta Variant. Just 14% of the population here are vaccinated. We’re going back to 12 to 15 people in a room, and they cannot mandate people to wear their masks,” said John Bowden, a resident at Four Points. “People do what they want. They’re just out of jail, they’re dealing with mental health issues and addiction. I just want to live my life.”
THE CITY reported this week that as of June 21, the latest data available, about 6,500 shelter residents had been vaccinated through DHS services. That represents 14% of the 47,114 population of the shelter system.
Peter Trapani, another hotel resident who will be heading to the Bronx today, said: “It’s scary. COVID is still here. We’re up to 16 men in a room. We’ve been told things will be rearranged so there are less people — but others say it’s the same as when we left. They just did a paint job.”
Bowden and Trapani both were frustrated that the new voucher system announced by politicians will not be in place for months. “There are thousands of apartment buildings in Manhattan with available housing. The landlords need to be forced to take the vouchers,” said Trapani. The Gothamist reported in March that although the new voucher plan made significant changes to the housing system, last-minute changes mean that the vouchers will expire once a person earns 250% of the federal poverty limit, or just above New York City’s minimum wage.
Local activist Marni Halasa organized the event yesterday to give voice to hotel tenants. “The Mayor should be focusing on finding them permanent housing. There’s an abundance of empty buildings, office spaces, empty hotels in the district and in the city that could be used as permanent housing with supportive services in the building,” she said.
“This was really the time that we actually could have solved the homelessness crisis — but there’s no political will. I hope the next mayor will actually do something about this. It’s what New Yorkers want — the homelessness crisis solved,” Halasa added.
Twenty minutes before the conference got underway, a 66-year-old Columbian tourist was walking with his family when he was hit with a metal pipe at W44th and 8th Avenue (less than half a block away from the hotel). The tourist was taken to Bellevue Hospital with non-life threatening head injuries. The New York Post reported that a 54-year-old homeless man living at Four Points was arrested for the assault.
Back in March, another homeless man living at the hotel was arrested and charged with the brutal beating of Vilma Kari, a 65-year-old Asian woman.