Starting this week, about 2,500 individuals experiencing homelessness in New York City will be transferred from shelters to hotels, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Saturday. The single adults who will be prioritized for the hotel rooms will include seniors and those who tested positive for the coronavirus or have symptoms of the disease. The move comes as 340 homeless New Yorkers have tested positive for COVID-19 and 20 have died, according to the city’s Department of Social Services.
During a press conference on Saturday, the mayor said his administration would move 6,000 homeless New Yorkers into hotels by Monday, April 20. That number includes 3,500 individuals who have already been placed in hotels prior to the pandemic, a strategy put in place by de Blasio in 2017 to decrease shelter populations.
“Some shelters have a lot of space, some do not,” de Blasio said on Saturday. “Where it’s clear to our Department of Social Services and our Department of Homeless Services that social distancing cannot be achieved properly, a number of those clients will be moved to hotels to achieve the balance, to make sure there is the proper social distancing.”
“We will use those hotels aggressively as a tool to support homeless individuals, to strike the right balance in our shelters to make sure people who need to be isolated are isolated,” he said.
The city will add 230 “safe haven” and low-barrier beds. These provide shelter for New Yorkers to get off the streets immediately. The mayor said there will be “an intense focus” in the coming weeks to get as many New Yorkers off the streets as possible, especially for those who are older.
Advocacy groups first called on de Blasio to use the city’s 30,000 vacant hotel rooms to house homeless New Yorkers three weeks ago. A coalition of organizations, including Vocal New York, Neighbors Together, and Urban Justice Center, are behind the “Homeless Can’t Stay Home” campaign.
“Additional resources are a welcome step,” Peter Malvan, an advocate and homeless New Yorker, said in a statement on behalf of the coalition. “However, thousands of human beings will still be left on the streets and tens of thousands will be left in highly dangerous shelters. Failure to immediately help all homeless New Yorkers will result in a failed public health response that will not stop the spread of COVID-19.”
Last week, more than 180 health professionals statewide signed an open letter to de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, requesting they use all open vacant hotel rooms to house homeless New Yorkers. The coalition also launched a GoFundMe fundraiser to cover the cost of a hotel room for those in need.
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