At a Brooklyn Homeless Shelter, Staff and Residents Readying for Return

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A 2020 calendar lay on a mattress in one of the shelter’s six-person bedrooms. A memo affixed to the wall near a second-floor bathroom, dated March 3, 2020, described once-current information about the “novel coronavirus” — including guidance against wearing masks. “This is proving to be a fast-changing situation,” the document reads.

Another memo, this time from March 24, 2020, notified residents that New York City’s Department of Homeless Services (DHS) had opened quarantine units for shelter residents experiencing COVID symptoms.

Soon after that letter was posted, city officials decided to move most DHS shelter residents into one- and two-bed hotel rooms to limit the spread of COVID-19 — a policy credited with protecting the lives of some of the most vulnerable New Yorkers. The residents of the Prospect Place shelter, run by the organization Center for Urban Community Services (CUCS), were transferred to a hotel in Sunset Park in June 2020.

More than a year later, dozens of women are set to come back. The city is forcing the residents, and thousands of others, to leave the pandemic-rented hotel rooms and return to group shelters beginning again as early as Monday.

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s hotel clearance plan has faced significant opposition from homeless New Yorkers and their advocates who say the city is putting people in danger by moving them back into close quarters as the deadly Delta variant spreads and COVID cases rise. Vaccination rates among the city’s shelter population have lagged far behind the citywide numbers.

The city’s former Health Commissioner, Oxiris Barbot, urged de Blasio in a letter signed by dozens of doctors to move homeless New Yorkers into permanent housing rather than recreate the status quo that existed before the pandemic. “Repopulating shelters now directly threatens the health of thousands of homeless New Yorkers and, indirectly, that of the entire city,” reads the letter, first reported by the Daily News.

A group of shelter residents and advocates took legal action earlier this month forcing a temporary stop to the shelter transfers after the city moved nearly 2,000 people out of hotel rooms. More than 6,000 people remain in about 40 hotels rented out to limit the spread of COVID-19.

But the same judge who halted the moves said the city can resume the plan as long as officials provide seven-day notice and inform residents of their right to request accommodations that meet their health needs.

With the transfers once again imminent, City Limits reached out to nonprofit providers to talk with shelter staff and visit the buildings where the city puts up New Yorkers experiencing homelessness.

CUCS invited City Limits to visit a site, the organization’s 90-bed Prospect Place shelter, to see exactly what one of those spaces looks like.



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