In what the Street Vendor Project is describing as the first salvo in an imminent crackdown, a roasted peanut vendor in Lower Manhattan had his permit confiscated last week after he stepped away from his stand for a quick comfort break. Mohammed Shirajul Islam, who's been a vendor for the last ten years, is now in dire straits after answering nature's call at a nearby bookstore. "When got back to my cart, the permit had been scratched away," says Islam, 42. "Now I have to wait until they give me a new permit, and that could take a month. I can’t sleep. Street vending is how I provide for my family."
The rule is part of new changes [pdf] that became effective on January 1st, but some vendors were unsure if it would be enforced because another new regulation, banning all fish and seafood from sale at vending carts, was later declared an "unintentional" mistake by the Health Department. But a DOH spokesperson confirmed today that vendors are prohibited "from leaving mobile vending food units unattended whenever food is maintained on the unit, as a matter of public safety, and food defense; the food must be secured and not in reach of the public."
The DOH spokesperson also pointed out that it's possible for more than one licensed food vendor to operate under a single permit, implying that the solution was for vendors to cover for each other to take breaks. But Ali Issa, director of organizing at the Street Vendor Project, said in a statement, "This new policy is cruel. Vendors already have a hard time finding appropriate bathroom facilities during their long hours on the street. This will just make things worse."
And Mohammed Shahajan, another vendor, pointed out, "Everybody has to use the bathroom—and should be able to. We are men and women—we are not made of plastic." Shahajan and Islam will join other street vendors tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. at a protest in front of the Health Department headquarters at 253 Broadway.