Aladdin Hotel: Notorious Hell’s Kitchen homeless shelter begins its shutdown



Located at 317 West 45th Street, the Aladdin Hotel homeless shelter will shut down by Dec. 31 (Photo by Will Walkey).

Airam and Margarita Pacheco Canino leaned against the gray, neglected front of the Aladdin Hotel homeless shelter. They murmured goodbyes as they watched around 10 of their neighbors drag suitcases and trash bags down the hotels stone steps, across the sidewalk and into a yellow school bus that would take them to a new shelter. 

The riders were among the first residents to be removed from the Aladdin, a dirty, rodent and roach-infested facility with high levels of crime and drug activity. The Caninos will be moved elsewhere by Dec. 31, when the old hotel shuts down for good as a shelter. 

The 156-room building at 317 W. 45th St., in the theater district, has been serving homeless New Yorkers since 2002. Around 300 still live there.    

While the Caninos are relieved to leave the shelter, they are concerned about the potential problems, such as increased transportation costs during Airams commute to and from work, that moving to a new facility will bring. Airam, 43, works as a building maintenance porter at nearby Carlos Bakery. Margarita, 53, is unemployed and receives government assistance checks and food stamps.

The couple said they are also frustrated because the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) has given them and others at the Aladdin very little information about when, where and how they will be moved. 

The group that left recently on the yellow bus was only informed at 11 p.m. the previous night that they would be leaving in the morning, riders said. Such short notice is not an option for those who must work the next day.  

Right now, everybodys in limbo,said Airam Canino. People are just gonna get sent wherever theres room.

The DHS sent a memo to the shelters residents on Aug. 29, notifying them that they would be moved out of the hotel and into either permanent housing or another shelter by the end of the year. 

Officials from the DHS did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 

The Department of Homeless Services informed Aladdin residents that they would be moved in this memo from Aug. 29 (Photo provided by Airam Canino).

The Aladdin was one of the facilities targeted by a DHS and city plan to end the use of commercial hotels as stop-gap homeless housing solutions by 2023. At a 2017 town hall meeting, Mayor Bill de Blasio said he wasadamantabout closing the Aladdin, because of this policy change and outside pressure. 

For years, local leadership has argued that the shelter should close. The facility itself was not up to the standards for a shelter, and we didnt think the programming there was sufficient,said Jesse Bodine, district manager at Manhattan Community Board 4. 

Residents and business owners in the area have complained that the shelter has led to increased crime, furthering pressure to shut it down. 

New York City Police Department crime reports show that the immediate area outside the Aladdin has had more combined reported felonies, misdemeanors and petty infractions than any other spot in a five-block radius in the last five years: 495. The next-highest location, near Times Square, had 431. 

Josè Mesa, a superintendent at the nearby Sherrie Apartments, said the increased homeless population has led to greater levels of noise, dirtiness, litter, drug activity and public begging outside the building. Many of his residents, including his daughter and wife, feel unsafe when walking in the area, he said. 

The Aladdin contributes to the perceptionthat the entire area is crime-ridden, said Peter Malfatti, general manager at Beer Culture, a bar across from the shelter. The occasional panhandler in the bar or acts of violence, such as a stabbing outside the shelter in April, make him constantly aware about the safety of his business and customers. 

But the major issue of the Aladdin, said homeless advocates, the DHS and de Blasio, is that it does not do enough to help its residents. 

Aine Duggan, president and CEO of Partnership for the Homeless, said the number one issue in homelessness is bricks and mortar; many stop-gap shelters, especially hotels, are inadequate as long-term living spaces.

The Caninos, who have been in a relationship for 24 years and married for a year, found themselves homeless this year after being forced out of their respective apartments. Neither had a source of income when they applied for shelter, and yet they were still placed in June at the Aladdin, which lacks cooking facilities and refrigerators. 

Residents also live without air conditioning, and security within the building is an issue. Communal staircases and hallways have insufficient lights or cameras — “a total blind spot,Airam Canino said.

The Caninos must spend much of what they get from his job at the bakery and her food stamps to buy essentials. 

They dont supply us with anything no toilet paper, no soap, no toothpaste,Margarita Canino said. We have to buy everything.

After watching their neighbors board the bus, the Caninos sighed and walked back into their ever-more-temporary home.