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After Backlash, Homeless Men Will Move Out of the Upper West Side

After backlash from some residents on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, nearly 300 homeless men who had been temporarily living in a neighborhood hotel will be relocated.

The announcement came on Tuesday, following weeks of fierce debate among community members. Some residents complained that the new neighbors were diminishing the quality of life in the area. Others felt that characterization was unfair.

Many saw the mixed reception as a test of values for a largely white neighborhood that was otherwise known as one of the most liberal enclaves in New York and elsewhere in the country.

[N.Y. will move homeless men from liberal neighborhood after backlash.]

Here’s what you need to know.

The spokesman for the city’s Department of Social Services would not comment on Tuesday about whether the backlash prompted the move. Instead, he said the hotel stay was always meant to be temporary.

“This is the beginning of a larger effort to come back from those hotels and get back to our traditional shelter system,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a news conference on Wednesday. “Having a lot of homeless folks in hotels was not good for anybody. It wasn’t good for homeless folks.”

My colleague Nikita Stewart reported that the relocation will begin as early as this week, and that other relocations are scheduled at several commercial hotels.

Back in April, the city moved roughly 9,500 people into 63 hotels to address the overcrowding at shelters. Other relocations of homeless people to Hell’s Kitchen and parts of Queens prompted complaints by neighborhood residents.

Near the end of July, 283 homeless men were moved to the Lucerne Hotel on West 79th Street. A day later, a private Facebook group — Upper West Siders for Safer Streets — was created. Members accused the men of menacing pedestrians, urinating on the street and selling drugs in the open. As of Wednesday, the group has more than 15,000 members.

Some residents even formed a nonprofit, the West Side Community Organization, and hired a lawyer, Randy Mastro, who threatened to sue the city.

“People are generally concerned to go outside now,” Gary Kokalari, a longtime resident, told my colleague Dan Slotnik. Another resident, Amanda Fialk, told Mr. Slotnik: “Being homeless is not a crime, but we’re treating these people like criminals.”

Homeless men who were living at the Lucerne told my colleague they could sense the mixed reception. “It makes me feel upset when I walk on the street and people walk on the other side of the street,” said Clinton Bynum, 63.

In a statement released on Tuesday, Mr. Mastro called the city’s response “a testament to community organizing.” He added: “We are gratified that the community is being heard.”

But not everyone was thrilled about the city’s action. Helen Rosenthal, the councilwoman who represents the community, wrote on Twitter: “It’s a sad day when the mere threat of a lawsuit can get City Hall to reverse a decision it made.”

“What message does this send that groups who can afford to hire high-powered lawyers are the ones who will get their way?” she asked.

On Wednesday, community leaders and homeless advocates held a news conference in front of the Lucerne. During a speech by the city’s public advocate, Jumaane Williams, a man who said he lived at the hotel interrupted.

“I live here and I’m going to work,” the man said, as seen in a Facebook video of the news conference. “I’m not sleeping here all day.”

“I don’t blame these people that are upset,” he added, “but you’ve also got people here that want to live, and they want to better their life.”

The Times’s Katherine Cusumano writes:

As traffic picks up again, on the streets and underground, what are the best strategies to stay safe while commuting and making essential trips? Some advice based on conversations with experts:

1. Choose your method wisely.

Take into account how long you’ll be waiting for your chosen vessel to arrive and if the station is inside or outside.

If you’re riding the bus, try to sit near a window, and keep it open. You don’t want to try this on the New York City subway, though. Opt for the escalator or stairs over the elevator, if you can.

2. Avoid touching communal surfaces.

Wash your hands before you leave the house and again upon reaching your destination, in addition to sanitizing frequently throughout.

Steer clear of subway poles and rails to the ferry deck or onto the bus. Don’t touch the turnstile with your hands as you move through it. Stay away from touch screens, keypads and elevator buttons.

3. Follow any new directions.

If you’re boarding the bus, enter from the rear to avoid shedding respiratory droplets on the driver and other passengers. And if you’re driving onto a ferry, remain in your car for the duration of your trip.

4. Don’t eat onboard.

Avoid extensive conversations, too; talking — and singing — sprays aerosolized droplets that can carry virus particles.

5. Be strategic about your timing.

Try to avoid peak commuting hours. Find out if your employer will allow for flexible hours so you can circumvent, and not contribute to, the rush-hour crush.

It’s Thursday — take a walk.

Dear Diary:

It was a slightly hotter-than-normal day in the summer of 1980. Three friends and I were walking up Columbus Avenue with four leftover slices of pizza (pepperoni, as I recall).

We wanted ice cream, but we were college students on tight budgets and had already spent what we had on the pizza.

We ducked into a Häagen-Dazs shop, where, it turned out, the workers hadn’t had lunch yet.

A few minutes later, they were dining on pizza, and my friends and I were back on the street, each with our own scoop of ice cream.

— Mike Faber

New York Today is published weekdays around 6 a.m. Sign up here to get it by email. You can also find it at nytoday.com.

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