Former Inmates Threatened with Early Checkout from Taxpayer-Funded Hotel Rooms
Homeless people who moved into rooms in Manhattan and Queens after leaving jail or prison could be back on the streets by Oct. 31 — especially if money from FEMA doesn’t come through.
When Grady Credle went from an upstate prison to a hotel in Queens, he arrived without a phone, money for food or a change of clothes.
That all changed within an hour after he met with an onsite resident advisor contracted by the city to supply basics to people just out of city jails and state prisons.
“The first night felt like the best night of my life,” Credle, 55, recalled. “I was out of jail and sleeping in a hotel room instead of on a cot in a shelter.”
Credle is one of approximately 450 other people formerly locked up whom the city has put into three hotels since the pandemic hit in March.
Advocates are now worried what will happen to the 250 homeless former detainees currently in hotels if the city halts the program, which faces some neighborhood opposition and uncertain funding.
The de Blasio administration is seeking reimbursement for the COVID Emergency Housing program from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has recently moved to yank funding for disinfecting New York City trains and schools. The city has contracted with multiple social service nonprofits and the hotels until Oct. 31.
“The long term plan for the hotels will be determined based on public health considerations driven by COVID,” said Maggie Halley, a spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, which is overseeing the initiative.
The three hotels are Wyndham Garden in Fresh Meadows, LaGuardia Holiday Inn Express in Corona and The Wolcott Hotel in Midtown.
‘It has made a tremendous difference for our clients.’
The program has improved the chances of people getting released from city jails and state prisons, said Julia Solomons, senior policy social workers for the Bronx Defenders.
Prosecutors, judges and prison officials are more likely to agree to let people out when they know there’s a hotel bed available as opposed to a packed shelter, Solomons and other public defenders said.
“It has made a tremendous difference for our clients,” Solomons said.
Each location is staffed with a full-time resident advisor based in a hotel room stocked with water and clothes, according to Julio Medina, founder and executive director of Exodus Transitional Community, which is coordinating housing services under an arrangement with the mayor’s office.
‘An Amazing Story’
As the coronavirus started to spread through New York, staffers at his organization took up spots at the hotels and began to assist those who arrived. City jail personnel drove the former detainees to the hotels and coordinated with their defense lawyers.
People inside are connected with an array of job training programs and visited by a social worker or nurse, if necessary. They are also given three free meals each day, served in the hotel lobby or conference room.
For years, many homeless people just out of jail or prison quickly landed in crime-ridden and packed shelters. A lack of comfortable housing increases the odds of recidivism, research shows.
‘The city did a pretty good job.’
The hotels cost the city an estimated $200 a night per person. The city has also paid Exodus about $300,000 as an advance and owes the group $1.2 million, according to Medina, who said the payment is expected this week.
“If we don’t get that money, I’m in trouble with payroll,” he said. His organization also pays for the food vendor and security personnel.
Criminal justice experts note it costs $337,524 to house an inmate in city jail for a year, or $925 a day, according to a 2019 report by city Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office.
The hotel program is “an amazing story,” said Vincent Schiraldi, who served as city probation commissioner from 2010 to 2014. “The city did a pretty good job.”
Protests in Some Spots
The launch, though, has experienced some hiccups — and not everyone is a fan.
Some inmates have been booted for failing to follow a basic code of conduct that includes no fighting or carrying of weapons, according to Medina. Each hotel has security posted outside and the resident advisors have a dispute mediation system in place.
Former inmates were initially put into the Aloft Harlem hotel, but were moved out after one day when hotel management complained, according to Medina.
In Queens, residents protested the placement of former inmates into the Fresh Meadows Wyndham Garden hotel. An online petition urging the city to stop using the hotel has 9,492 signatures.
“To use this hotel as a halfway house is a betrayal of our community by both elected officials and the hotel ownership,” the petition says. “It is a betrayal of those being housed there as well.”
That’s because the city is merely “kicking the can down the road” in dealing with the population and their needs, the petition adds.
The protests have been tough for some of the hotel residents.
“I’ve been out of prison for 20 plus years and when I hear some of the rhetoric, it pains me,” Medina said. “And I’ve got a family and an organization. We will always have that scarlet letter. We will always be felons in somebody’s eyes.”
Major crime, aside from grand larceny and grand larceny auto, is down this year so far in the NYPD’s 107th Precinct, which includes Fresh Meadows.
For Credle, who lives in the Fresh Meadows hotel, community complaints are par for the course. He came to the hotel from Watertown Correctional Facility where he spent 3 ½ years in state prison on a drug sale charge.
“You are always going to hear negativity along with the positivity,” he said. “I know the territory. I understand what’s going on. I don’t hang out in the streets. I just come and go.”