New York City’s Billionaires’ Row Just Got Its Very Own Homeless Shelter

A shelter for 80 homeless men opened in the former Park Savoy Hotel on New York City's Billionaires’ Row last week.
Residential skyscrapers, including One57, second from left, a gleaming 75-story glass high-rise on West 57th, make up a Manhattan neighborhood of sprouting luxury towers dubbed "Billionaires' Row," Wednesday April 4, 2018, in New York.
Residential skyscrapers, including One57, second from left, a gleaming 75-story glass high-rise on West 57th, make up a Manhattan neighborhood of sprouting luxury towers dubbed "Billionaires' Row," Wednesday April 4, 2018, in New York.(AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Residents of Manhattan’s so-called Billionaires’ Row—a smattering of ultra-posh, super-expensive skyscrapers abutting Central Park—just might have to encounter poor people after all.

Last week, a shelter for 80 homeless men opened in the former Park Savoy Hotel after years of blowback and an unsuccessful legal battle from angry residents, according to The City, a local nonprofit media outlet. The shelter, located on West 58th Street, now sits right by an entrance for a luxe megatower called One57—where a duplex penthouse once sold for a record-breaking $100.4 million. 

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Westhab, the nonprofit operating the new shelter, has told local media outlets that it looks forward to being a good neighbor; the building has 24-hour security, and its program focuses on servicing individuals who are either working or seeking employment, according to Fox 5 New York. 

The Billionaires’ Row shelter might be the greatest brick-and-mortar example of the country’s current class divide, but it’s also a reminder of just what a shelter has to overcome to exist at all. Residents who say they’re worried about crime and plummeting property values often fight homeless services by filing environmental lawsuits, weaponizing zoning rules, and creating a stink in the press. 

In this case, a group called The West 58th Street Coalition filed a lawsuit over the city’s plans to develop the shelter in 2018, alleging the former hotel in which it’s currently located was structurally unsound and would pose security concerns, according to Bloomberg News. The coalition’s website, which describes the building as a “dangerous fire trap,” stressed that “of course” residents wanted to help the homeless but that the plans for the shelter were still deeply flawed and concocted without neighborhood input. 

That year, a resident told a New York Times editorial writer that Mayor Bill de Blasio was also unfairly trying to make an example of the neighborhood.

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“He’s not sticking it to billionaires; he’s sticking it to people like myself who work 100 hours a week. We’re not bad people. We’re just trying to get ahead,” she said.

After years of legal wrangling, a state appeals court finally allowed the shelter to continue as planned this year.

The kind of fight put up by The West 58th Street Coalition is overwhelmingly common, though: People rally against homeless shelters and services no matter where they’re placed, and no matter who runs them. When homeless men were moved into a hotel in New York City’s Upper West Side during the pandemic, for example, locals put up a nearly yearlong fight until the men were eventually relocated back to traditional shelters. 

In 2018, neighbors of a hospice facility for the homeless in Salt Lake City, Utah, also protested its location in a residential neighborhood, suggesting the poor, dying newcomers would increase crime. 

When an Austin hotel was suggested as a possible shelter location earlier this year, dozens of people also protested—and the shelter eventually drew lawsuits from both neighbors and the surrounding county. 

And last month, residents in Brookings, Oregon, seemingly managed to pressure their city council into limiting how often a church could feed the local homeless population.

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