Upper West Siders for a Compassionate, Safe and Equitable Community
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At this unprecedented time - with a global pandemic, a recession, and an ongoing reckoning with our nation’s racist past and present - it is critical that we act with compassion and empathy to those among us who are most in need. We believe this can be done, while ensuring the health and safety of our community residents.
As we face an economic crisis where millions of people are losing their jobs and unable to pay rent, homelessness is on the rise all over the country, including in New York City. Meanwhile crowded homeless shelters put residents at greatly increased risk of COVID. Higher SARS-CoV2 infection rates will lead to more hospitalizations and a greater risk of death for these residents as well as for the workers who support them. Moreover, increased community transmission of the virus poses a risk to everyone.
Several hundred homeless men were recently moved to hotels on the Upper West Side as part of a temporary citywide effort to de-densify homeless shelters to prevent the spread of COVID. Reducing the spread of COVID keeps us all safe - it is critical that we keep our case count low. This program is literally saving lives, and is smartly making use of hotels that are sitting empty due to the pandemic, which also supports local businesses. Every neighborhood in the city is being asked to do their part. Over 60,000 New Yorkers are currently experiencing homelessness and the UWS houses approximately 2% of them*. We cannot let misinformation about individuals experiencing homelessness get in the way of keeping our whole community safe.
We know that every individual experiencing homelessness has their own story and is facing their own struggles. Being homeless is neither a personal nor a moral failing. Homelessness is a structural and systemic problem and a manifestation of unjust social and racial policies.** We respect these individuals’ dignity as humans and their inherent right to housing. We stand ready to do our part to welcome them to our community. We refuse to participate in perpetuating segregation and racism.
We have witnessed in the past weeks people posting photographs of these men, often simply sitting on a corner and speaking to their friends or members of the community; discouraging others from donating to those in shelter; and speaking about these men in ways that take away their humanity. Regardless of where a person stands on this issue, we want to invite people to think about these men as human beings, with hopes, fears, and stories of their own.
We all want to live in safe communities. To do so, we must understand the facts on the ground: we must parse out the perceived risk vs. real risk. Evidence shows that crime is not up in any statistically significant way since these men have moved to the UWS.*** Given the overall economic and social pressures our neighborhood is under at this time, we encourage city officials to continue communicating with the Upper West Side community.
Furthermore, we know that only when people have stable housing can they even begin to deal with other struggles they are facing, such as addiction, mental health issues, joblessness, health concerns, and other things that contribute to chronic homelessness. Shelters in hotels are a necessary short-term solution that benefits us all. But the true solution is to ensure that all of these individuals can access affordable housing and stable employment. We welcome more affordable housing to the UWS and look forward to building an integrated, just and equitable community.
The image of the Upper West Side is that we are one of the most progressively-minded communities in the country - a majority of us believe in confronting racism, in targeting the systemic ways that poverty becomes generational, in building a better tomorrow for all children, and in social justice. If we want to build a truly just society, we must be willing to stand up for those values in our own neighborhood.
*Data on homelessness is available here: https://citylimits.org/2019/09/10/data-drop-which-nyc-neighborhoods-host-the-most-homeless-shelter-beds/?fbclid=IwAR30fHE6irGGiMkGeTFi93op_4P51D55n-FzB5hOj8dV3ftrC7RJu1FZcBg
** The shelter population is disproportionately people of color. Only 7% of heads of households in shelters are white. https://www.coalitionforthehomeless.org/basic-facts-about-homelessness-new-york-city/#:~:text=New%20York%20City%20Homelessness%3A%20The%20Basic%20Facts&text=In%20May%202020%2C%20there%20were,of%20the%20homeless%20shelter%20population
*** Data on crime from the 20th Precinct:
Petit larceny is down 38% for the week vs the same week last year (21 vs. 34 reports), and it’s down 20% in the past 28 days vs. the same period a year ago (107 vs. 132).
Grand larceny is down by an even greater percentage.
Sex crimes are down (zero the past week vs. three a year ago, and one in the past month vs. four a year ago).
Misdemeanor Assault is flat for the week (2 vs. 2 a year ago) and down for the month (10 vs. 12 a year ago)
Robbery is up, but the number is tiny (three this week vs. 1 same week last year, and 7 this month vs. 4 a year ago). The YTD increase is all from the most recent period, so it bears watching even if the increase is small.
Burglary is also up, but again the number is tiny (two this week vs. one same week last year, and ten this month vs. 3 same month last year). More significantly, it’s been trending up all year long (84 YTD vs. 39 same period last year) so this is not something recent.
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