Vanderbilt Y Rents Empty Hotel Rooms to Shelter Homeless

In our last e-blast to Members, we broke the news of the Vanderbilt YMCA’s  6-month contract to rent 219 of its empty hotel rooms as shelter. At our request, Councilman Keith Powers arranged a Zoom meeting on August 17 with stakeholders, city officials and key agencies present. Many of our questions were answered by the Bowery Resource Center (BRC), the nonprofit contracted by DHS (Dept. of Homeless Services) to operate the Y shelter. We expect a followup meeting soon. 

Present at the first meeting were Borough President Gale Brewer, Assemblyman Dan Quart, NYPD Det. Jeff Arlotta, representatives from CB6, the Vanderbilt Y,  BRC and the community, including FDHP, TBA, and East Midtown Partnership, a BID.

Following is the Q&A from the 8/17 meeting:

Q: Will a Community Advisory Board be created for the Vanderbilt Y’s temporary housing? 

DHS will participate in community stakeholder meetings as needed. For example, the agency has made a commitment to regroup and meet again with community stakeholders in two weeks.  Because this is site is only for short-term use, we will not have a formal CAB. 

Q: Can you describe the Vanderbilt Y’s temporary housing model?
This is a Stabilization Program, for individuals previously living unsheltered, who have been referred by a homeless outreach program. These short-term, low-threshold units are based on the Housing First model and offer a safe location for clients to live while also serving as a clinical tool to help staff build trust with clients.  

Staff engage clients through regular individual case management, focusing primarily on assessing the client, identifying and addressing barriers to housing, and completing housing applications. All services are individualized, based on ongoing assessments of each individual and their needs, with the goal of moving forward to other longer-term appropriate housing placements.

Q: What is the timeline for the temporary housing at the Vanderbilt Y? Is it possible that this contract could be renewed after 6 months?

The current contract is for 6 months, through the end of January. Contract renewal is dependent on DHS’s ongoing need for this capacity provided by BRC and for the terms of the contract to be extended by the Y.

Q: Who will be living there? How will this address individuals experiencing homelessness in the neighboring area?

Specifically these beds are for all outreach teams, including the Manhattan Outreach Consortium for individuals experiencing street homelessness. BRC has already spoken with the East Midtown BID with whom they have a contract to provide services in the area, similarly so for Breaking Ground who works with GCP BID.

Q: What services will be provided to residents?

The following services are provided to clients: Case management, with referrals off-site and via tele-health to all necessary medical services; Meals 3x/day; Regular (hourly) wellness checks by BRC staff of all rooms and client areas.

Q: Will there be a curfew? How will it be enforced?

Stabilization and safe haven programs do not have curfews; this has proven to be more effective with this group of clients. BRC uses this same policy as at another location in the community, the BRC Safe Haven at 327 East 17th Street.

Q: Will the YMCA provide a phone number for neighbors to call as there are issues that arise in the community?

BRC 1-pager (attached) has more site-specific information including the 24-hour on-site phone number 646-942-6771. The site-specific e-mail address for the community is:

Q: What security will be in place at the Y? Will the security staff be employed by BRC or DHS? Will security staff work only at the Y or also do periodic patrols on the block?

BRC has uniform security guards 24/7 at the building entrance screening everyone entering. BRC uniform staff (orange shirts) are present 24/7 at the entrance and on every floor; they are responsible for doing regular rounds inside the building and on the street. Street rounds will be on both sides of 47 between 2nd and 3rd as well as one block north and south.   

Q: What will DHS/BRC do to prevent the spread of COVID within the shelter and in the neighborhood? How will you ensure face coverings for residents? How will you ensure social distancing of residents?

Stabilization and safe haven programs do not have curfews; this has proven to be more effective with this group of clients. BRC uses this same policy as at another location in the community, the BRC Safe Haven at 327 East 17th Street.

Q: Will the YMCA provide a phone number for neighbors to call as there are issues that arise in the community?

BRC 1-pager (attached) has more site-specific information including the 24-hour on-site phone number 646-942-6771. The site-specific e-mail address for the community is:

As you may know, DSS developed a multi-pronged response for implementing City health guidance on isolation and mitigation to protect the health and safety of our City’s most vulnerable residents during this crisis. You can read more about these efforts in testimony delivered before the New York City Council on April 23, found here.  

This program is a COVID prevention program; moving people from sleeping in public where they are at risk to sleeping in private rooms; if they don’t get COVID they cannot spread COVID. BRC provides masks for all residents as often as needed. Wellness checks will be conducted around the clock and anyone who is symptomatic will be sent for testing and relocated to an isolation center elsewhere

Q: What is DHS’s process for ensuring they are in compliance with sex offender laws (SORA/SARA)?

Information About State Sex Offender Registration: The requirement that a sex offender register is separate from the residency restriction requirement. Residency restrictions are imposed by the State during the period of parole. 

New York State classifies sex crimes into three levels based on an offender’s risk of committing another sex crime and harm to the community: Level 1 (low), Level 2 (moderate), and Level 3 (high). These risk levels, as determined through a hearing at the time of an offender’s release to the community, are individualized on a case-by-case basis specific to certain facts, such that offenders convicted of the same offense may receive different risk levels. Moreover, these risk levels govern the amount and type of information which can be released as community notification and also impacts the duration of registration with the State Division of Criminal Justice Services (“DCJS”). As a general matter and based on the New York State Sex Offender Registration Act (“SORA”), Level 1 sex offenders must register for 20 years (except for certain designations), and Level 2 and Level 3 sex offenders are required to be registered for life.

Information About Residency RestrictionsL Separate and apart from registration are potential restrictions on where a person can reside upon release into the community (“residency restrictions”). Importantly, a person’s status as “registered” does not mean that the person has residency restrictions—SORA does not restrict where a registered person may live. Rather, State residency restrictions are a component of the State’s Sexual Assault Reform Act (“SARA”). Under SARA, State residency restrictions are imposed as a condition of parole or conditional discharge upon persons convicted of certain enumerated sex crimes in which the victim was under the age of eighteen at the time of the offense, or, where the person has been designated a level three sex offender. Importantly, such residency restrictions are only imposed on a person during the period of his or her parole or conditional release, and not after.

Shelter Placements: The City of New York places all clients in appropriate locations in accordance with State Law – and we provide shelter to New Yorkers experiencing homelessness regardless of background. All verifiably homeless New Yorkers have a right to shelter regardless of background. This includes helping people rebuild their lives and grow through second chances as they get back on their feet. In addition to following State Law as relates to residency requirements, we also have to follow the law on providing shelter to all who are experiencing homelessness, regardless of background, since New York is under court order to provide shelter to all those who need it – and it would therefore be unlawful to discriminate against individuals based on their backgrounds or prior experiences. 

At this location, BRC will be conducting assessments of all clients before referring them to any location, to make sure they are appropriate for that location; determining whether they are a registered sex offender is part of that process

Q: What will be done to prevent negative impacts on local businesses that are already struggling during the pandemic?

BRC has established relationships and made connections with the local businesses in the area. The neighboring businesses in the area have BRC’s email addresses and contact number.

Q: Has the 17th Precinct increased patrols in the neighborhood?

Q: Will the YMCA’s programming be affected?

Due to current circumstances, we have had to review all of our programming and the impacts of COVID and the economic downturn on the way we serve our City. We have implemented a variety of virtual programs that will continue and be enhanced as the needs of our communities might grow. As it relates to youth and education programming, it is our intent to provide UPK and early childhood programs at Vanderbilt. We are also in conversation with the City to provide other funded youth programs to help support our families. We will utilize a separate entrance and maintain all existing safety protocols. Finally, on membership services, we continue to monitor State and City guidelines around health and wellness programming and hope to be able to make a determination on that front in the coming weeks. 

Q: As there currently exists a consistent street homeless issue in Dag Plaza, what is the plan to address this, in order to not compound the problem in the Plaza? Can DHS increase street outreach efforts in the area? Will street homeless people who spend time in the Plaza and/or surrounding area be eligible for the new program at the Y?

At intake all clients will review and sign BRC’s Good Neighbor Policy, which outlines their responsibility to respect the community. This includes discouraging gathering in large groups or engaging in inappropriate behavior, be it in front of the building or on the block. It also highlights the need to be respectful and considerate in open spaces and parks including Dag Hammarskjold Plaza.  BRC program staff (orange shirts) and security will conduct regularly scheduled rounds that include the block and surrounding areas. During these rounds staff and security will engage with clients who are not adhering to the Good Neighbor Policy with the objective of modifying the behavior. If the behavior is a recurring issue, BRC clinical staff and supervisors will have further engagement with the individual, and will consider this as part of their assessment of whether the client is appropriate for the program.  

In addition, BRC homeless outreach and other city contracted outreach providers will conduct targeted outreach within the area, including open spaces and parks.

DHS street outreach through our contracted providers regularly canvass areas known to be hot spots, if there is a need for an outreach team to come to a location, please call 311 so that a team can be dispatched.