The Skyline Hotel — sitting vacant on 10th Avenue after several attempts to provide shelter for New Yorkers — will welcome families with young children to its Hell’s Kitchen rooms this weekend.
The move was flagged not by a formal announcement to the community or in collaboration with local elected officials, but by the mass delivery of mattresses to the sidewalk outside the hotel to facilitate the arrival of over 200 families. The action has been criticized not for its influx of families but for a lack of prior communication from the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) to the neighborhood about its plans.
“I absolutely cannot believe that we are in the same position as 18 months ago. This is being done with no notice, no consultation, no plan and no guarantees for our community,” said Joe Restuccia, co-chair of Housing, Health and Human Resources at Manhattan Community Board 4 (CB4).
In a statement released by the DHS this evening, the agency confirmed that families with young children were to be moved into the Skyline this weekend for temporary shelter over the next six to nine months while they worked to pursue permanent housing. In addition to historically high rents, the end of the eviction moratorium and an under-funded Emergency Renter’s Assistance Program (ERAP) has left many New Yorkers without homes.
“I am writing to inform you that the NYC Department of Social Services/Department of Homeless Services (DSS/DHS) will be utilizing the building at 725 10th Avenue to provide shelter to families with children in need of temporary housing. This will be a short-term use of the site (6-9 months) to meet the current capacity needs of the City shelter system. In the meantime, DSS-DHS will be looking into other possible sites to meet our capacity needs,” it said this evening.
“DSS-DHS has used this building for shelter purposes and previously exited in August 2021. The building will be used to shelter up to 232 families with children and will be operated by Acacia. Because of the urgency of the current capacity need, we plan to begin utilizing the site in the coming days.”
Acacia, New York’s biggest shelter contractor, has previously come under fire for failing to serve its resident clients with adequate safety and medical support, despite receiving as much as $259 million in DHS contracts in recent years.
Said City Council Member Erik Bottcher in reaction to the news: “There is nothing more heartbreaking than homeless children. While we have concerns about the lack of advance notice and the scale of the placement, we will envelop these families with love, and insist that they receive the maximum amount of social services and support available during their time in our community. We will also ensure that our schools have added support to accommodate any new students.”
Also announced today, Homes for the Homeless (around the corner from the Skyline) will also be providing shelter for families in need. Their shelter will operate out of the former Riverview seniors home at 519 West 49th Street between 10th and 11th Avenue. It will have a capacity of 81 families with children and is anticipated to open in September.
“I am happy to hear Homes for the Homeless will be back in our neighborhood providing for homeless families in the same space they were years ago,” said Leslie Boghosian Murphy of CB4. “I worked in the childcare services portion of what was then Clinton Family Inn and Shelter and the children were a bright spot in my week.”
“We will now have over 300 shelter families on one block, so the density is concerning, but for different reasons than the issues we were finding with the hotels turned COVID shelters in our area last year,” she added. “We have to be proactive and communicate with our local schools, parks and public service facilities to make certain the transition is smooth and the families have what they need.”
The Skyline had previously been the site of several temporary housing solutions prior to and during the pandemic, housing families seeking shelter until they were abruptly vacated to accommodate an influx of single male residents to the hotel.
Many residents and local businesses argued that the management of the transition was poorly handled — noting that children from the shelters who were enrolled in local schools were pulled away with little warning, and that a blanket approach with a lack of specialized, appropriate services supporting residents with mental health issues led to safety issues around the neighborhood — including a racially-motivated attack on a local Asian man by a resident of the Skyline in 2021.
Suzy Darling of the nearby Pocket Bar said: “I think this is an amazing opportunity for families in need. However, after living through 2020 and 2021 where the occupants of the Skyline hotel were not properly vetted or supported with counseling it was an utter disaster. My business, Back Pocket Bar — located kitty-corner to the Skyline Hotel — witnessed stabbings as well as the police department being called to that location multiple times a day. My question to our local officials is — why were we as a community not informed of this decision? So we could ask the questions — do these rooms have kitchens? How are these families going to eat? What kind of supportive programs are there for them? What is the time frame of this provided housing? There are multiple block association meetings that this could have and should have been presented at. To hear that our representative ‘just found out today’ says to me the system is completely broken or they are lying to us… again.”
Holly-Anne Devlin of the Hell’s Kitchen Neighborhood Action Committee told W42ST at the time of the previous initiative: “This shelter hotel program, while well-intentioned, was so poorly executed that residents of the shelters were not given proper mental health treatment, work services, security, or basic services that they had received in congregate settings.”
Comprehensive mental health support has been a flashpoint over the course of the pandemic — local officials have cited the criminalization of mental illness over adequate funding and services as the city’s failure to protect all of its citizens, and leaving many to suffer in a cycle of homelessness. And for many across the board seeking housing with city vouchers, discriminatory practices by landlords have prevented New Yorkers from escaping the city’s temporary shelter cycle.
Jeremiah Johnson, a human rights activist and member of the NYC New Liberals, argues that the crisis is too wide in scope to wait for a solution from New York’s notoriously slow bureaucratic process, and emphasized a “housing-first” approach like that employed successfully in cities like Houston — where nearly 25,000 formerly homeless people were moved into permanent apartments and houses over the past decade in a concerted effort between city agencies and nonprofits to create housing quickly.
“We have a housing crisis, both in terms of homelessness and in terms of housing affordability,” said Johnson of New York’s challenges. “The solution during a housing crisis is never to let housing go unused — if there is housing. If there are places where people can stay that are just sitting empty, they should be utilized in some sense or another. Letting the Skyline Hotel just sit there closed and vacant when we both have an acute affordability crisis and a homeless crisis is unconscionable.”
He added that while DHS’s communication rollout may not have been ideal, that the endless stopgaps of many planning and approval processes could prevent New Yorkers in crisis from getting the housing they need. “I think too often that reasonable requests for community input turn into unreasonable levels of delay and obstruction,” he said. “Right now, the priority is to have a process that lets us do things quickly — because what we have instead is a process which allows anyone with a phone and a willingness to show up at a meeting to delay any project nearly indefinitely. That just can’t be where we are.”
The greater challenge — as stated by Bottcher, Boghosian Murphy, and Johnson — is the significant need for long-term infrastructure that would give more New Yorkers in need permanent housing and local communities the resources to welcome an influx of new residents.
“I think we’re going to be stuck in this loop of temporary fixes until we add an enormous amount of housing that we don’t currently have,” said Johnson. “If you look at the correlation between housing costs and homelessness, it’s very, very high. The places that have high homelessness are San Francisco, New York — places that are the most expensive to live in. Until we actually bring down the costs of housing by building out more apartments, more units, we’re always going to be stuck trying to put Bandaids on the problem.”
He argued that while the reopening of the Skyline is by no means the desired permanent solution, that it was a crucial step forward in a city devoid of housing. “I won’t pretend to know the perfect solution,” said Johnson, “but I know that the solution is not, ‘we can’t use that’ or ‘we have to go through a year’s worth of community hearings before we do anything in any way to add more housing to the mix and get people off the streets’.”