An effort to clear hundreds of homeless encampments across New York City has resulted in only five individuals accepting beds at a city shelter, Mayor Eric Adams said Wednesday.
The city has so far removed 239 out of 244 encampment sites located mostly in Manhattan, according to city officials.
Adams said that while the number of those who had accepted shelter was low, he was hopeful they would rise over time as city workers establish trust with homeless individuals. The latest encampment removal began on March 18th. The mayor said he didn’t have a total count of the number of people the city had contacted who’d lived in encampments.
He cited a similar effort on the city subway system, which began in February, that has since resulted in more than 300 people accepting shelter and city services.
“When we did the transit initiative, we had only 22 people that accepted services,” Adams said, during a press conference at City Hall. “We are rebuilding trust in the city.”
Details about the initiative come as the mayor faces sharp criticism from advocates who say that policing and removing encampments is inhumane and only serves to scatter homeless people to other sites. Adams is not the first mayor to conduct this type of sweep. Under Mayor Bill de Blasio, the city also targeted encampments, with about 150 sweeps a week in the last six months of 2021, according to data obtained through Freedom of Information Requests by the Safety Net Project of the Urban Justice Center.
Standing under the municipal rotunda, the mayor was flanked by nearly a dozen city officials — including NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell — whose agencies have been involved in removing homeless encampments.
New York City has roughly 48,000 people living in shelters, while roughly 2,400 are living on the street, according to recent city data.
Adams has been defiant, saying he’s fixing government “dysfunction” that has failed New Yorkers by allowing them to live on the streets in squalor. He made a similar argument on Tuesday when he announced the rollout of 350 new shelter beds.
On Wednesday, the mayor spoke to reporters surrounded by blown-up photographs, showing a before and after shot of an encampment that had been cleared away. Another showed hundreds of scattered hypodermic needles.
“Is this dignity?” he said, referring to the photo.
Advocates for homeless New Yorkers, who have warned the sweeps would only move people from one location to another, pointed to the low number of people who’d come indoors as evidence their arguments were valid.
“This is not ‘compassionate,’ it is a tragedy,” said Helen Strom, with the Safety Net Project of the Urban Justice Center. “It’s time to stop this cruelty and redirect his focus to offering people housing.”
Moments before the mayor’s announcement, sanitation workers in the East Village finished throwing out the belongings of a homeless person who’d been living in a cocoon of tarps on First Avenue for around two years. The man, who declined to give his name, said workers told him they’d be there on Thursday, but arrived a day earlier than he’d expected. Sanitation workers gave him an hour to take whatever belongings he wanted to keep.
“It’s my home,” he said, adding he planned to stay put that night, but with fewer tarps to shield him from the cold.
A few blocks away, near Tompkins Square Park, a woman who identified herself as Gloria, said she feared her tent would be cleared next. She declined to give her last name, citing concerns about trying to get a bed in a single room.
“If you’re going to clear it out, help us,” the 40-year-old said, adding she’d been living the streets for about a year and half. Recently, she’d been trying to get a bed in a detox center, but when she went Wednesday morning, she said she was denied because she didn’t have a mailing address.
“All that’s gonna happen is you’re gonna take these tents down — another tent in another spot is gonna happen again,” she said. “If one of [Adams’] family members were in the same situation would he feel the same way? I doubt it.”
Correction: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this story misstated the name of the Urban Justice Center on second reference.