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New York City mayor targets homeless encampments

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A homeless woman named Jordan looks on as Mayor Eric Adams orders homeless camps removed in the East Village on April 6, 2022 in New York./AFP
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Apr 08, 2022 - 03:12 AM

NEW YORK — In a scene that has become increasingly common in New York, police dismantled a homeless encampment but none of the people there agreed to be relocated into a shelter, fearing such places are  dangerous.

While anti-eviction campaigners booed and a massive police presence looked on as the site was emptied Wednesday, sanitation workers dumped blue tents and piles of clothes, blankets and rubbish into a dumpster.

Police arrested several activists, as well as a homeless man who resisted the eviction after hours of negotiations, including the offer that occupants could keep their tents if they left.

Such sweeps have multiplied under the new Democratic Mayor Eric Adams, who promised in March to rid the city of makeshift camps in public spaces like streets, parks and the subway, and instead offered what he called dignified rehousing.

A spokesman for Adams, Charles Lutvak, said that means “a clean, safe place to rest their heads at night.”

The policy, which comes after the city was ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic, has no shortage of critics, including from progressives within his own party.

“Wasting resources on something like this, a display that was clearly overkill, at a time when you’re slashing affordable housing budgets, is unacceptable,” said Democratic city council member Carlina Rivera.

Tremendous need 

The Coalition for the Homeless says homelessness in New York City is at its highest level since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

It recorded almost 48,500 people sleeping in the city’s shelter system in January, up 15 percent, from a decade ago.

Many also prefer to take their chances on the streets rather than the shelters, citing overcrowding and violence.

Sitting under scaffolding that protected the makeshift camp from rain, Kevin, a 66-year-old African American man who did not want to give his last name, said he had been robbed while staying at a shelter.

“I don’t recommend no one to go to a shelter. They are dangerous,” he said.

His friend, Cynthia, agreed.

“We want apartments, we want homes, we don’t want shelters,” she said.

The encampment targeted by the city on Wednesday was located in Lower Manhattan’s Alphabet City, right across the street from a Lutheran church providing free meals.

“There’s been a real increase since Covid came, but especially in those early months (with) so many more people living on the streets, the line for our soup kitchen was getting longer and longer and longer every single day,” said pastor William Kroeze. “And it still is very long. There’s still a tremendous need.”

Mayor Adams himself has conceded limited results from his policy so far, with only five of the nearly 239 homeless people evicted agreeing to go to a shelter.

But speaking on CNN this week, he argued the policy would require more time, saying that over 300 homeless people had sought the city’s assistance.

“We’re going to continue to do that,” he said.

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