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To Limit the Spread of COVID-19, Advocates and Elected Officials Call on Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo to Secure 30,000 Vacant Hotel Rooms for Homeless New Yorkers

On a press call today, advocates and elected officials urged Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo to secure  30,000 vacant hotel rooms immediately for homeless New Yorkers, including those who live on the street, in congregate shelter settings, and are recently homeless.

This recommended action will enable homeless New Yorkers to engage in social distancing, limit the spread of COVID-19, and help keep all New Yorkers safe - including those living on the streets, people living in congregate shelters, their coworkers, and staff who work in shelters.

Participants discussed the urgency and necessity of using 30,000 of New York City’s more than 100,000 vacant hotel rooms to house and help homeless New Yorkers self-isolate and avoid contracting and/or spreading COVID-19, especially those on the streets and in shelters who are among the most vulnerable to the virus.

They warned that COVID-19 will continue its rapid spread if the city and state fail to provide immediate access to vacant hotel rooms to New York City’s homeless residents. New York is far behind other cities and states like New Orleans, Connecticut and California that have already begun to offer hotel rooms to homeless people, without requiring a positive COVID-19 test first.  

Additionally, advocates, elected officials, and New Yorkers currently living in shelter and on the streets discussed the need to end street sweeps targeting homeless New Yorkers, and other abusive policing on streets, subways, and other public spaces.

Advocacy participants included members and leaders of Communities United for Police Reform (CPR), Picture the Homeless, VOCAL-New York, Safety Net Activists of Urban Justice Center, Neighbors Together,, Landlord Watch and Strong Economy for All.

Elected official participants included New York City Public Advocate Jumaane WilliamsNew York City Council Members Donovan Richards, Antonio Reynoso, Brad Lander, and Stephen Levin; along with New York State Senator Zellnor Myrie and New York State Assembly Members Walter Mosley, Yuhline Niou, and Harvey Epstein. 

Dr. Kelly Doran, an emergency room physician for over a decade and expert on homelessness and health, also joined this press call. 

A recording of the full press call is available here: 

Below are statements from currently and formerly homeless New Yorkers, elected officials, and advocates.

"After first experiencing 'flu-like symptoms,' I was worried about the risk of making other people in my shelter sick, especially my roommate. Fortunately, thanks to community organizers who advocated for me, I am now in an isolation shelter where I can keep myself and others safe. It should not take a crisis for us to realize we need to act; if the city gave all of the men in my congregate shelter dedicated hotel rooms, none of us would have been exposed to COVID-19, putting our health and our lives in danger,” said Winston Tokuhisa, member leader of Neighbors Together.

"I have lived in a shelter on Prince Street for the last 8 months. I am here to tell you we are not given the tools we need to stay safe," said Steven Dickerson, Community Leader of VOCAL-NY. "People who work in my shelter are doing the best they can, but the City has not given them the resources they need either. We need space to protect ourselves, and we can't do that without hotel rooms or some other place to live while this crisis unfolds."  

"DHS has a responsibility to provide people with isolated rooms. Putting people together in crowded shelters or even 2-person hotel rooms is not appropriate during a pandemic. It feels like they are more concerned with money than the safety of the clients. Moreover, the amount of money they spend on the shelter system could be spent putting people into their own apartments. Their greed is becoming a crisis," said Scott Andrew Hutchins, Picture the Homeless member.

"People who are street homeless and in the trains need a place to stay right now. There are tons of people outside and they have nowhere to go," said Maria Walles, leader with the Safety Net Activists at the Urban Justice Center. "The City's congregate homeless shelters are overcrowded and it is impossible to socially distance. The City and State should practice what they preach and offer hotel rooms to everyone who needs one."

"The city's response to the COVID-19 pandemic has left behind some of New York's most vulnerable populations in this greatest moment of need. There are New Yorkers on streets and in shelters facing intense risk of exposure to this virus while tens of thousands of hotel rooms in our city sit vacant. We have a moral obligation to provide critical aid to – not unnecessary enforcement against – homeless New Yorkers. This crisis only makes that demand even more urgent and dire," said New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.  

“Homelessness has long been a crisis in our city and is now further complicated by the coronavirus. We need to take bold measures to protect our City’s most vulnerable, and that includes moving people off the streets and out of crowded shelters into vacant hotel rooms. Housing those experiencing homelessness in hotel rooms will protect those experiencing homelessness as well as shelter staff. This is a necessary step to stop the spread. Additionally, the City must cease all enforcement sweeps of New Yorkers experiencing homeless on the subways and on our streets. We must look out for our fellow New Yorkers in this high needs population and the people who help them. Doing so will make all of us safer,” said City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.

"Just as NYC is working to expand hospital capacity, we have to leverage the same urgency to house New Yorkers who have no home to stay in. Tens of thousands of hotel rooms are sitting empty right now while people are sleeping on the streets or in crowded, unsafe shelters. There is enough space to keep people housed and healthy, this is a matter of political will," said New York City Council Member Brad Lander.

"There’s a painful irony in our leaders telling people to stay home when we know so many of our neighbors don’t have one. I join Communities United for Police Reform and other advocacy groups in strongly urging Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio to use 30,000 of the 100,000+ hotel rooms currently sitting vacant to house and help homeless New Yorkers self-isolate. This is a common sense solution for how we can protect our most vulnerable from the threat of coronavirus while also helping to mitigate its spread,” said New York City Council Member Antonio Reynoso.

"We can’t say to every New Yorker, stay home to stay safe from the Coronavirus, if a percentage of our population doesn't have a home to go to,” said Council Member Donovan Richards. “We risk completely fighting off this virus if we still have people experiencing unsheltered homelessness on the same streets we’re being told to avoid. Getting them into clean and safe spaces throughout the City is only fair and quite obviously it’s the right thing to do,” said New York City Council Member Donovan Richards.

“New York City must work to ensure that we serve vulnerable communities. Providing adequate resources, including immediate and a pathway to permanent housing, will help to keep New Yorkers who are homeless safe as we work to manage the risks of COVID-19. I thank advocates for their tireless work here," said New York City Council Member Keith Powers.

“Amid the current COVID-19 health pandemic, whereas New York City is the epicenter of the crisis, we must fight to protect our homeless community members. In a time where to stay safe, you must stay inside, it is critical that the city identify 30,000 hotel rooms to de-crowd shelters and move our homeless community from the streets. This works to keep our homeless community safe as well as ends harmful police enforcement of homeless people in community spaces. Protecting our vulnerable communities is essential amid COVID-19 so we must find a solution to shelter our homeless community now,” said New York State Assembly Member Yuh-line Niou.

“The city must stop the inhumane practice of clearing encampments at the current epicenter of a global pandemic which is contrary to the recommendations of the Center for Disease Control. We need the city and the state to step up for the most vulnerable New Yorkers during this crisis––that means tapping all our resources to de-crowd shelters and providing interim housing for street homeless New Yorkers, with a pathway to permanent housing. Safe housing is critical during this global pandemic,” said New York State Assembly Member Harvey Epstein.

“In a time where loved ones, friends, co-workers and fellow New Yorkers are dealing with this once in a generation health pandemic in real time and on a daily basis, we cannot ignore the needs of the least of us. For our fellow city residents who are homeless, the desire to do everything in our power is absolutely necessary as we face this secondary pandemic wave where those who need us the most will remain in danger far beyond the immediate medical emergencies from Covid-19. All hands are on deck and the need to use and implement all available resources the city has to offer is something we shouldn't have to demand of our city administrative during this most perilous time,” said New York State Assemblyman Walter Mosley.

“Our city and state must use every available resource to address the needs of our homeless neighbors, especially during the public health crisis we are currently facing. As we work to combat COVID-19, we must recognize that "staying home" is a privilege thousands of New Yorkers do not have. We should utilize vacant public spaces, hotels, and SROs to provide safe places for the homeless, as well as halt the subway diversion program, and provide the necessary services, materials, and funds to ensure the health and safety of homeless New Yorkers, outreach teams, and shelter employees,” said New York State Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi.

“We can’t police our way out of this pandemic. New York cannot fully protect public health until Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio house New Yorkers who are currently living on the streets and in shelters. Instead of targeting homeless New Yorkers for arrests, fines, and incarceration during the coronavirus crisis, Cuomo and de Blasio should immediately secure and place homeless New Yorkers in vacant hotel rooms. Providing all New Yorkers with the means to self-isolate and engage in social distancing is crucial for our collective well-being. Securing 30,000 hotel rooms immediately for homeless people will help protect them, their coworkers, shelter staff, and all New Yorkers against the spread of coronavirus,” said Anthonine Pierre, a leader of Communities United for Police Reform (CPR).

"To have such a large group of people in New York at higher risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19 is an unacceptable moral crisis. And not only is it a moral crisis, it is also a practical one; a large-scale outbreak of COVID-19 among our vulnerable homeless population in NYC will only further overwhelm the hospital system that we all rely on. We need to do everything we can to protect all of our fellow New Yorkers who cannot protect themselves by staying at home," said Dr. Kelly Doran, an emergency room physician for over a decade and expert on the intersection of homelessness and public health.

“Thousands of homeless New Yorkers are still living on the streets, with virtually nowhere to shower, wash their hands, use the restroom, or secure a meal while practicing social distancing. “Meanwhile, there are over 100,000 vacant hotel rooms, and federal ESG funding that can be used to move people into those hotels. Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo have no excuse not to act immediately to move people off the streets and out of congregate settings into 30,000 vacant hotel rooms,” said Josh Dean, Executive Director of

“According to the latest CDC guidelines, even those who are asymptomatic may be able to spread COVID.  Now more than ever, the Mayor must give all homeless New Yorkers on the streets and in congregate settings the option to move into individual hotel rooms in order to prevent further spread of COVID and to avoid unnecessarily overwhelming our already taxed healthcare systems. With over 100,000 vacant hotel rooms in NYC, setting aside 30,000 for homeless New Yorkers is a life-saving and common sense solution- the Mayor must not wait any longer,” said Denny Marsh, Executive Director, Neighbors Together.


About Communities United for Police Reform

Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) is an unprecedented campaign to end discriminatory policing practices in New York, and to build a lasting movement that promotes public safety and reduces reliance on policing. CPR runs coalitions of over 200 local, statewide and national organizations, bringing together a movement of community members, lawyers, researchers and activists to work for change. The partners in this campaign come from all 5 boroughs, from all walks of life and represent many of those most unfairly targeted by the NYPD.