Before the pandemic, the city's social services department had 3,500 single adults housed in hotels. Now, there are more than 13,000.

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – New York City has been housing thousands of homeless in dozens of hotels during the coronavirus pandemic, but neighbors are voicing concerns, CBS2’s Andrea Grymes reported Thursday.

Security guards stood outside one of the city’s newest temporary homeless shelters: The Lucerne Hotel on the Upper West Side.

The city ramped up its program of housing homeless New Yorkers in hotels in April to ensure social distancing and safety during the pandemic.

RELATED STORY: Lucerne Hotel On Upper West Side Turns Into Temporary Homeless Shelter, Prompting Concern Among ‘Petrified’ Neighbors

“They’re doubled up. So, they’re not totally risk free, but it it certainly better than it was before, in terms of COVID,” said Brooklyn Councilman Stephen Levin.

Before the pandemic, the city’s department of social services had 3,500 single adults housed in hotels. Now, more than 13,000 are in 139 hotels across the city.

“The single adults continue to go up and up and up. So, the shelters are so overcrowded that they had to do something,” said Bob Mascali, a former deputy commissioner at the Department of Homeless Services under Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg.

There’s no word on exactly how much the hotel program costs, but it’s estimated to be hundreds of millions of dollars. Councilman Levin said FEMA is reimbursing the city for 70 percent.

CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

From job loss to addiction, it’s a heartbreaking situation for many, but the program has been controversial.

As CBS2 reported, many neighbors around several hotels have found an increase in crime and quality of life problems.

They’re not all related to shelter residents; some come from bad actors, like drug dealers who take advantage of a vulnerable population.

Homeless residents moved out of the Washington Jefferson Hotel in Hell’s Kitchen this week, after numerous complaints from neighbors.

CORONAVIRUS: NY Health Dept. | NY Call 1-(888)-364-3065 | NYC Health Dept. | NYC Call 311, Text COVID to 692692 | NJ COVID-19 Info Hub | NJ Call 1-(800)-222-1222 or 211, Text NJCOVID to 898211 | CT Health Dept. | CT Call 211 | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

On Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio was asked about concerns that hotels are being used with little to no input from the community beforehand.

“We should always work with communities but, in a crisis environment, there’s not always time to do the idealized community outreach. But, any community concerns must be addressed,” said the mayor.

Watch: Mayor de Blasio’s July 30 briefing

Vijay Dandapani, president and CEO of The Hotel Association of New York City, represents some of the hotels in the program.

Dandapani said many had no choice but to participate, since the hotel industry is struggling without tourism.

“For them, it was kind of a do or die situation, so they welcomed it,” said Dandapani. “Every hotel is doing their best. Let’s remember, every one of these hotels wants to go back to being what they were purposefully built for. So, it’s not in their interest to just, in any way destabilize a neighborhood.”

RELATED STORY: Homeless Individuals Moved Out Of Hell’s Kitchen Hotel That Took Them In During Peak Of COVID-19 Pandemic

The nonprofit Project Renewal, which ran the Washington Jefferson shelter, also runs the new shelter at The Lucerne.

The group said 70 staffers and security guards work there around the clock, ensuring their clients’ safety and to be good neighbors.

The NYPD officially stopped homeless outreach, unless it involves suspected criminal activity. The Department of Social Services said it adds additional security at all hotels that are used.

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