Mayor Eric Adams’ administration has continued removing homeless encampments in the city, even as the policy has come under intense scrutiny.
On Wednesday, NYPD officers and sanitation workers disposed of tents and other belongings on East 9th Street in the East Village, displacing several New Yorkers experiencing homelessness and arresting seven people for obstruction of government administration and disorderly conduct.
At the start of the clearances last month, Adams said his administration had also made hundreds of new shelter beds available for those who live on the street.
“As of this week, we are creating 350 of the promised 500 safe havens and stabilization beds,” Adams said during a ribbon-cutting ceremony of a so-called safe haven shelter in the South Bronx on March 29th. It’s a claim Adams also made in February in a joint announcement on subway safety with Gov. Kathy Hochul.
But lawmakers and homeless advocates have raised questions over how new the additional beds really are, and whether they’re the types of facilities that, in their experience, are able to entice homeless individuals to come into shelter.
At a City Council hearing early last month, Councilmember Crystal Hudson of Brooklyn asked the Department of Social Services (DSS) Commissioner Gary Jenkins whether new funding had been allocated for the mayor’s plan. In response, Jenkins admitted the beds had been planned and paid for under former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration.
“The 500 stabilizations and safe havens, we had that already. That is already in the works for us to open those,” Jenkins told city lawmakers on March 9th.
Roughly 2,400 people are living on the street, according to recent city data, an increase from recent years, and homeless services organizations say enticing them to join the 48,000 people currently living in the city’s shelter system is difficult. According to advocates, who consider the 2,400 estimate to be an undercount, many people experiencing homelessness don’t feel safe in large, congregate or group shelters.
“We're glad that they're following through and opening up these beds because they're desperately needed, but it's also really disingenuous to be pretending like this is some new investment that the city is making,” said Jacquelyn Simone, policy director at New York’s Coalition for the Homeless.
Safe havens are a type of shelter tailored to serve homeless individuals who may be resistant to accepting other services, including traditional shelters, with a specific focus on those experiencing longer-term homelessness, according to a DSS spokeswoman. This type of shelter has on-site medical services or connections to other services such as medical clinics, case management, and housing placement services.
Advocates said safe havens offer more services, fewer curfews and rules, and privacy typically in a single room or two people in a room.
“That’s really what we want the administration to be focusing on because that’s going to be the most effective in helping people move off the streets,” Simone said.
But uncertainty remains over whether the 350 new beds the mayor recently announced come close to fitting the criteria. And homeless advocates are concerned the administration is bending the “safe haven” definition.
Gothamist submitted questions to DSS spokeswoman, Julia Savel, for more details.
When asked what new housing for homeless New Yorkers had been introduced under the Adams administration, Savel did not reply.
When asked to identify the borough or neighborhood where the 350 beds are located, Savel declined to provide details.
“We cannot disclose this information under social service law,” Savel wrote in an email.
The same law, however, did not prevent Adams from revealing the location of the new 80-bed shelter in Mott Haven, known as the Morris Avenue Safe Haven. At the opening ceremony last month, the mayor invited members of the press to tour and photograph the new facility, which has 16 beds per room, with beds spaced roughly 3 feet apart, according to a tweet from New York Times reporter Andy Newman.
Celina Trowell, a homeless union organizer who used to work as a case manager at a shelter in Manhattan, said she does not consider the Morris Avenue facility a safe haven.
“There is a reframing of what they are calling safe haven beds. There's nothing safe or haven-like about a space that mimics that of a congregate shelter,” Trowell said. “Typically, traditional safe haven beds, at max, would have one to two people.”
In a written response to questions, Fabien Levy, a spokesperson for the mayor, did not dispute that the 500 shelter beds were created under de Blasio.
After entering office at the start of the year, Adams has come under intense pressure to address public safety concerns, particularly as it pertains to the city’s post-pandemic recovery. He’s often stated that he wants to pull workers away from Zoom calls and bring them back to the office, a transition that some believe is hindered by perceptions of crime and high-profile incidents involving homeless individuals in the subway.
“The number one reason people are resistant to coming back is fear of the subways, of conditions on the streets, of open abuse of drugs, of homeless mentally-ill people,” said Kathryn Wylde, president and chief executive officer of the Partnership for New York City, which represents companies that employ more than 1 million employees in the city.
In March, the organization released a survey of 9,386 adults in which 94% of the respondents said not enough was being done to address mental illness and homelessness.
On March 31st, two days after Adams attended the opening of the homeless shelter in the South Bronx, the mayor and his police commissioner spoke at the business group’s annual gathering of influential leaders at the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Plaza.
Wylde said the audience, which was made up of more than 300 heads of companies, was receptive to the mayor’s plans to remove the homeless individuals living on the street and in the subway system.
“I think the mayor’s actions, while some of them seem dramatic, are really important messages to restore confidence that New York City is not going back to the 1970s and 80s,” Wylde said, referring to a time in the city’s history when crime rates were much higher.
The mayor, according to his spokesperson, does not feel pressured by business leaders to clear homeless encampments from the streets.