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Editorial Observer: Gimme Shelters, Manhattan

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Editorial observer

Midtown residents mount shameful battle against a city homeless shelter.

By Mara Gay

May 17, 2018The plan to turn the Park Savoy Hotel in Midtown Manhattan into a men’s homeless shelter has drawn a range of reactions.CreditTodd Heisler/The New York Times

In the August heat two years ago, residents of Maspeth, Queens, learned of a homeless shelter planned for their neighborhood and erupted in fury, unleashing a campaign of vulgar, racially tinged protests. Maspeth residents picketed the hotel that the city hoped to convert into a permanent shelter, spewing hate as homeless children sat inside.

They voted the local councilwoman, Elizabeth Crowley, out of office, replacing her with the man who had led their crusade.

They shouted down Steven Banks, commissioner of the city’s Human Resources Administration, as he appealed to their sense of compassion during a community meeting, then took their protest to the doorstep of his Brooklyn home.

“Leave Maspeth Alone!” some of their signs read. “Maspeth Lives Matter!” The city ultimately surrendered.

Now, a similar battle is unfolding in the heart of Midtown Manhattan, as residents fight a men’s shelter the city plans to open in the now-shuttered Park Savoy Hotel. The site, on West 58th Street, is one of 90 that Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he will open as part of a yearslong plan.

In Maspeth, a mostly white, blue-collar area of Queens, the news of a homeless shelter was met with something barely short of a riot. On West 58th Street, a block from Central Park, residents have taken a more urbane approach: They formed a committee, the West 58th Street Coalition, to fight the shelter, built a sleek website and hired a public relations expert to make their case. Curiously, they also sought the help of Robert Holden, who beat Ms. Crowley in the Maspeth council race.

Diane Cahill, the public relations consultant, told me recently that the shelter was just as bad for the homeless men as it was for the community because the neighborhood was so expensive. Plus, she said, there had been those stories about homeless men masturbating in public. “That’s what you want tourists and children and families to have to walk by?” Ms. Cahill asked.

Opponents of the West 58th Street shelter speak in more polite and polished tones than their counterparts in Queens. But when it comes to homeless New Yorkers, the message is often the same from Midtown to Maspeth: Not on


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