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Homeless Individuals Moved Out Of Hell's Kitchen Hotel That Took Them In During Peak Of COVID-19 Pandemic

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Housing homeless individuals in Midtown hotels is a city experiment that's getting mixed reviews, and now at least one hotel has dropped the program and reverted back to what it was.

Pre-pandemic, the Washington Jefferson Hotel on West 51st Street between Eighth and Ninth avenues welcomed tourists to mix in with permanent tenants, like Richard Salierno. He's lived at the hotel for 25 years.

Initially, he liked the idea that during COVID, homeless people could social distance in what would otherwise be empty rooms and the hotel's owner could get financial relief.

"For them to make some money the only way they could," Salierno said,

Then came trouble -- not necessarily from the homeless residents at the hotel, but throughout the neighborhood as drug dealers moved in to take advantage of vulnerable populations.

RELATED STORY: Hell's Kitchen Residents, Business Owners Fed Up With Rising Crime In Neighborhood

Steve Belida, the chairman of a Hell's Kitchen block alliance, said in a few short months, the change was dramatic.

"Reports of people shooting up, drug dealing, panhandling, aggressive behavior," Belida told CBS2's Dave Carlin.

Belida and some neighbors complained to the city that the hotel was not adequately equipped to handle a large homeless population.

It had an impact.

Without stating an official reason, the city moved out the homeless individuals on Monday.

"We're happy that they're gone," Salierno said.

"I don't know where they're going to go," another Hell's Kitchen resident said.

RELATED STORY: Community Activists Work With NYPD On New Initiative To Confront Rising Crime In Chelsea, Hell's Kitchen

CBS2 learned from the city that the Project Renewal clients who left the Washington Jefferson Hotel are being housed in facilities uptown. The city is not confirming exactly where those locations are.

Some Hell's Kitchen residents said multiple hotels filling up led to crime-ridden streets, and that closing the homeless program in some, but not all, became necessary.

"It needed to be addressed," one Hell's Kitchen resident said.

"The number one answer is to not let people be evicted and not increase the number of homeless and that's what we're proposing," Sen. Chuck Schumer said.

Schumer and some other politicians concede solutions are tricky: prevent homelessness the best we can, have adequate programs and facilities for them, and knowing when people say we don't want them here, they must go somewhere.

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