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After years of fighting between homeless advocates and neighborhood residents, an initiative created by Mayor Bill de Blasio finally led the city to relocate thousands of homeless individuals from shelters into privately owned hotels over the past couple of months. The initiative was a dual effort to inject money into these hotels, who were suffering from the pandemic, and offer safety to homeless individuals, who were not only lacking privacy and protection from the pandemic in the city’s shelters but were also dying from Covid-19 at a higher rate than the rest of New Yorkers.
Now, however, this program is coming to an end. With an increase in out-of-town visitors due to lifted restrictions, and a major city-funded tourism campaign projected to draw in millions of vacationers, hotels want to go back to serving traveling guests. Neighborhood residents are also supporting ending the program, as they have continually complained about the side effects of having homeless housing in their community – including spikes in drug use, violence, and harassment.
The repercussions are twofold. At the surface level, homeless individuals will be forced to go back to unsafe shelters. Covid-19 rates in shelters have not subsided and, although the number of homeless people in the shelter system has gone down since the start of the pandemic, the almost 60,000 remaining will still sustain a very congested environment, especially in barrack-style shelters. On a deeper level, the temporary-nature of this relocation program was not enough to begin with. Moving homeless individuals from temporary shelters to temporary hotel housing was not fixing the problem at its root.
What is needed is real progress towards creating affordable, permanent housing supported by government aid in order to give homeless individuals a chance at success, while allowing the hospitality industry to properly recover as well.
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