Mayor Eric Adams defended his administration’s controversial push to clear hundreds of homeless encampments Friday, saying he was working to preserve the “dignity” of homeless New Yorkers.

“When I looked at some of those encampment sites...I saw people living in human waste,” Adams said in an interview on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show. “Drug paraphernalia, no showers, no clean clothing. Living like that, that is not dignified.”

At a press conference on Wednesday, NYPD officials said they’d cleared more than 300 encampments. Through March 30th, Adams said, just five people relocated from the streets into city shelters. City hall officials didn’t return requests for an updated count.

“You have the legal right according to law to sleep on the street, you don’t have a legal right to build encampments,” Adams told Lehrer. On Thursday, Adams had defended the encampment sweeps at a press conference with clergy members, saying the Four Evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John would have done the same thing.

Adam’s comments on WNYC came two days after a seven-hour long standoff between around four homeless people and several more activists over a cluster of four tents under a sidewalk shed of a derelict former public school building and community center on East Ninth Street in the East Village. Police arrested seven activists including John Grima, who refused to leave his tent. A day after Sanitation Workers had thrown their belongings in the trash, three people who’d been living at the encampment were spotted setting up camp at a nearby location.

More than a dozen community groups and mutual aid networks planned to rally in Tompkins Square Park Friday afternoon, a few blocks from the sight of the standoff, to call again for Adams to halt the sweeps.

Neighbors had watched Wednesday’s spectacle play out over the course of the day in horror and confusion as dozens of police officers and the NYPD’s Strategic Response blocked off the street and set up police lines around the four tents. Pastor Will Kroeze, who runs a soup kitchen and leads the Trinity Lower East Side church, said he agreed with the mayor that homeless New Yorkers deserve more dignified living conditions but said he didn’t think the mayor’s plan was accomplishing that.

“Certainly our neighbors deserve better than to be living in tents and to be living in boxes on the street but this is not what it looks like,” Pastor Kroeze said. “The inhuman treatment against our neighbors across the city these past few weeks is terrible. We can do better than this.”

Heriberto Medina, 41, one of the handful of people who’d gone indoors following an encampment sweep, said although he managed to get placed in a private room in a safe haven, he still did not think the mayor’s plan was the right course of action.

“What you should do is go and clean up the shelters, that’s what he needs to do,” Medina said, whose encampment under the BQE was cleared on March 28th. Medina said the last time he stayed in a city shelter – back in 2018 – he’d gotten body lice, a permanent foot infection and was smashed on the head and robbed. “People do not want to go into these shelters because they're not safe.”

Many New York City mayors before Adams have pushed to rid the city of homeless encampments, and the practice skyrocketed during the last months of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s tenure, with more than 150 sweeps a week.

But Mayor Adams has put a special focus on the sweeps, announcing it as part of an interagency effort. He’s faced pressure from business groups like the Partnership for New York City to do more to crack down on homeless encampments and open drug use. Representatives from those groups have said those street conditions are a major deterrent for businesses aiming to get people to return to their offices. On March 31st, Adams spoke to a group of about 300 influential business leaders about his plans to remove homeless people from the subways and streets, Gothamist reported, though Adams has denied being swayed by business leaders or anyone else.

Gothamist reported Friday on the questions surrounding the mayor’s pledge to bring 500 additional safe haven and stabilization beds online, when most of those were already in the works during de Blasio’s tenure. Meanwhile members of the city’s progressive caucus, which represents a majority of the council’s 51 members, pointed out the mayor’s proposed budget included a 20% cut to the Department of Homeless Services budget.

They’d called on Adams to boost the city budget by $104.9 million to fund 2,376 new Safe Haven and Stabilization beds and $9.9 million to fund three additional Drop-In Centers in their response to his preliminary budget released on April 1st. Safe havens and stabilization beds typically don’t have curfews and offer more privacy for residents than large dormitory-style shelters.

“These actions demonstrate the callousness toward the most vulnerable people in our city and it must stop,” the caucus’s letter reads. “We stand unequivocally opposed to the Mayor’s actions and demand an immediate and permanent end to the encampment sweeps.”

An estimated 2,376 New Yorkers live unsheltered on the streets, but the city’s 1,000 stabilization beds and 1,500 Safe Haven beds are almost always full, advocates say. Many unsheltered New Yorkers have terrible experiences in traditional congregate shelters and refuse to enter them.

The Brooklyn Paper reported Thursday, that following a sweep of an encampment of people living under the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in Williamsburg on March 28th many were still seeking shelter there. Sixty-year-old Wanda Ruiz lived nearby and had heard about the sweep and said she’d sometimes brought food to people under the raised highway.

“I don’t like that he got rid of their tarps, their homes,” she told Gothamist. “What’s gonna happen with them? Are they gonna get the actual help that they need? Is [Adams] gonna follow through?”