Advocacy groups say neighborhoods like the Upper West Side are being swamped with an influx of homeless people relocated by the city - and even the NYPD is now acknowledging that more is needed than just citing people for low-level offenses on the streets.
"Your eyes do not deceive you ... if you take a ride up there you see a number of individuals, homeless individuals on the streets, there is no disputing that," NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea told NY1 in a Monday morning interview. "We have no role in where homeless are placed but we're certainly dealing with the aftermath now."
Approximately 13,000 homeless adults are living in rooms in dozens of hotels across the city, taken to those locations in an effort to keep shelters safe and socially distanced amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
But groups like Upper West Siders for Safer Streets have been collecting accounts and pictures of things like people apparently passed out on sidewalks, slumped over near restaurant tents — even some with hands down their pants, apparently committing lewd acts.
"People are upset and people want to maintain a perceived quality of life and I sympathize with them," Shea said.
But the bigger problem, he noted, was that many of the homeless in the neighborhood need mental health services that they may not be getting.
"We clearly have people who have mental illness, we have people who are down on their luck and homeless, and we've got to bring services to them ... If you take a walk around there, and I have, you're going to see a lot of people with mental illness, and the answer is much more complicated than writing summonses to individuals that sometimes quite frankly I don't think they even realize they're getting a summons," the commissioner said. "This is a bigger issue ... this is much beyond the police."
Also among those who have been placed in the Upper West Side hotel are are sexual offender, which has put many parents on edge. The Guardian Angels have pledged to do more patrols in the area.
Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration has said the hotels on the Upper West Side (and throughout the five boroughs) are offering services. At the Lucerne Hotel, on West 79th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, a nonprofit called Project Renewal says it has 50 staff offering counseling, medical and recreation services.
Advocated for people struggling with homelessness said it's not fair to assume all the people seen in pictures on the streets and committing lewd acts are residents of hotels that have been turned into shelters. Roland Hueston, a tenant of the Lucerne Hotel, said he doesn't like those scenes any more than his new neighbors.
"They gotta look at it from our perspective as well. Some of us don't want to be in this situation," Hueston said.
But some residents of the area say it's not a matter of compassion — it's a matter of safety and common sense. One man, who is a part of Upper West Siders for Safer Streets, said relocating such a high concentration of homeless individuals threatens the local economy.
"Why don't we take Javitz Center. They outfittted it for people with COVID. THey can be socially distanced in there, they've got state of the art security," said Gary Kokalari.
Meanwhile, other activists who have been protesting the high concentration of drug clinics in Harlem for years are questioning why temporary shelters on the Upper West Side have attracted so much attention, while permanent methadone clinics in their neighborhood have prompted no urgency.
A spokesperson for the city's Department of Homeless Services said it does not make policy for methadone clinics, but stressed the Upper West Side shelters are temporary and that they have saved lives by keeping people dealing with homelessness socially distanced during the pandemic.