Was the problem here really the process, or privilege?

Jeff Reed for the NYC Council

Councilmember Helen Rosenthal says some of the reaction to the transfer of shelter residents to hotels is actually about street homeless unaffected by the city’s moves.

Scan New York City headlines for “homeless” this summer and you are unlikely to see mention of research indicating that the death rate from COVID-19 in shelters is 66 percent higher than the citywide fatality rate. Instead, you are liable to happen upon the New York Post story titled, “Hundreds of new homeless turn UWS into a spectacle of drugs and harassment: residents,” or the Fox News piece, “Behind the homeless, sex-offenders debacle dividing New York City’s once serene Upper West Side.”

The story of the de Blasio administration’s decision to move more than 700 homeless people to four hotels in the area has focused on the complaints of a group of UWS residents who claim the arrivals have threatened public safety and damaged the neighborhood.  “Many of these troubled, idle men are thieving, threatening residents, urinating,  masturbating, defecating. and shooting up on nearby streets.  Very few wear masks.  A large residential neighborhood, dense with elderly people,  is now rationally distressed and at increased risk of contracting COVID-19,” wrote one commenter on a recent New York Times story. “Why are you not mentioning outdoor drug deals, armed robberies, men masturbating on the steps of the New York Historical Society, men aggressively panhandling, grabbing local residents, spitting at them in the middle of a pandemic? Why are you trying to push an agenda that is quite literally destroying the city you purport to serve?” wrote another.

But there are other sides of the story. Some residents of the Upper West Side have banded together to defend the new arrivals. And the local Councilmember has gone from saying, “I have told City Hall that under no condition will we accept any more temporary shelters,” to writing to constituents: “I regret stating that the Upper West Side would not accept any more people who are homeless. The Upper West Side is known as a place that welcomes those in need and I remain steadfast in that tradition.”

That official, Helen Rosenthal, and a member of one of the UWS groups opposing the outrage over the hotel relocations, Melissa Sanchez from the UWS Open Hearts Initiative, joined the Max & Murphy Show on WBAI on Wednesday. (The attorney for UWS who oppose the shelters was invited but did not respond.)

Hear our conversation below or listen to the full show, which includes a discussion of the continuing concerns about reopening schools.

Helen Rosenthal and Melissa Sanchez on the UWS Homeless Controversy

Max & Murphy Full Show of September 2, 2020

With reporting by Sy Schimberg