For the 16 months of the pandemic, New York City has been putting up thousands of homeless people in hotel rooms to safeguard them from the coronavirus.
Now, with most of the state vaccinated, restrictions being lifted and an economic recovery on the line, the city is raring to fill those hotel rooms with tourists.
And so on Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced plans to move about 8,000 people out of about 60 hotels and back to barrackslike group shelters by the end of July.
“It is time to move homeless folks who were in hotels for a temporary period of time back to shelters where they can get the support they need,” Mr. de Blasio said at a morning news conference.
The mayor said the city would need the state’s approval, but a spokesman for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said that as long as all shelter residents — even vaccinated ones — wore masks, there were no obstacles to the plan.
“The governor has lifted social distancing restrictions, so now people just have to follow the C.D.C. guidelines on masks,” said the spokesman, Rich Azzopardi.
The city did not immediately answer questions about when it would begin transferring people back to shelters.
The hotels, many of them located in densely populated parts of Manhattan, have been a source of friction with their neighbors who have complained of noise, outdoor drug use and other nuisances and dangers from the hotel guests. The city’s decision to move nearly 300 people from a shelter on an island off Manhattan into the Lucerne on the Upper West Side touched off a monthslong battle.
Wednesday’s announcement signals the end to a social experiment that many homeless people gave high marks to, saying that having a private hotel room was a vastly better experience than sleeping in a room with up to 20 other adults, many of them battling mental illness or substance abuse or both. Some people said they would sooner live in the street than go back to a group shelter.
“I don’t want to go back — it’s like I’m going backward,” Andrew Ward, 39, who has been staying at the Williams Hotel in Brownsville, Brooklyn, after nearly two years at a men’s shelter nearby, said Wednesday afternoon. “It’s not safe to go back there. You’ve got people bringing in knives.”
He said he had his belongings stolen countless times.
At the hotel, he said, “It’s peaceful. It’s less stressful.” He said if he were transferred back to a group shelter, “I’d just stay in the street like before.”