New York City Mayor Eric Adams implored unsheltered New Yorkers to come indoors Monday, as authorities in two cities hunted for a mysterious gunman who was believed to be targeting homeless people in New York City and Washington D.C. in a string of five attacks.

But for some of the city's homeless population, the plea fell on deaf ears.

Several homeless people who spoke to Gothamist Monday described their terrifying encounters with the city’s shelter system, saying they’d rather take the risk of staying on the streets than what they viewed as the inevitable danger associated with heading indoors. Police in D.C. arrested a suspect in the shootings Tuesday, but for many sleeping on the streets, the alleged attacker was just the latest in a string of threats to their safety.

“It’s scary out here, I’ve been assaulted so many times,” said 54-year-old Cynthia Maria Glock who was sitting in a wooden chair on the sidewalk near Penn Station Monday morning, when asked about the recent killings. Still, she said, she’d rather stay outside. “You got people coming out of Rikers. You’ve got people with major, major anger issues. They’re not safe.”

Joseph Daniels, 67, was selling Metrocard swipes inside the subway station nearby, and said he’d spent more than four years living outside. After one stint at a Brooklyn shelter, he said he promised himself he’d never go back.

Lately, he’s been sleeping in Madison Square Park on Madison Avenue. He said he’d heard about the killings in D.C and New York, but that wasn’t enough to make him want to return to a shelter.

“It’s more than that one guy, harassing homeless people,” he said. I done seen it all out here.”

Several homeless people who spoke to Gothamist Monday morning say the city’s shelter system oftentimes feels more dangerous than sleeping out on the streets.

Several homeless people who spoke to Gothamist Monday morning say the city’s shelter system oftentimes feels more dangerous than sleeping out on the streets.

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Several homeless people who spoke to Gothamist Monday morning say the city’s shelter system oftentimes feels more dangerous than sleeping out on the streets.
Gwynne Hogan

On Monday, a coalition of community groups including Open Hearts Initiative, VOCAL-NY and Housing Works called on the mayor to reopen hotel rooms to New Yorkers living on the streets, just as the city had done during the height of the pandemic. They said in a letter to City Hall that it should have vacant hotel rooms in its COVID-19 isolation program and that people on the streets were more likely to accept an offer for a hotel room than a congregate shelter.

“As we continue to call for permanent housing for all New Yorkers, we ask you to take the immediate and urgent step of providing hotel rooms for every unsheltered individual who wants one,” the letter read. “Now is the time to use the tools we have to save lives.”

Adams’ office and the Department of Homeless Services didn’t return a request for comment.

The targeted attacks of homeless individuals comes one month after Adams announced a plan to tackle subway safety, in part, by getting homeless people to leave. The plan followed a string of random attacks by homeless people like the fatal subway shoving of Michelle Go. Advocates had feared the plan would just mean people who typically take shelter in the subways would just be sleeping outdoors, exposed to the elements.

More homeless New Yorkers died in fiscal year 2021 than since 2006, the first year data was available, according to an annual report released by the city’s Health Department. The number of deaths of homeless people had more than doubled in a three-year period, up to 640 deaths. The most frequent cause of death of people in the streets and city shelters was drug overdoses, the report found.

Ron Davidson, 55, who was rattling a cup of change outside a McDonalds in Midtown Monday morning, said he was horrified by the recent killings. He said he lost his job and then his apartment at the start of the pandemic, and spent more than a year on the streets before entering a shelter five months ago.

Why would you do that - kill a sleeping person?” he said.

He said he thought all the recent frenzy around a series of high profile crimes committed by homeless people might have something to do with it.

“People are so spiteful, you know. Everything coming on TV, the news, is all about the homeless people in the subways," he said.

Instead of homeless services, how about you build some homes? That’s what we need.

At a press conference in D.C. Monday afternoon, Adams was asked if he thought the subway safety plan had contributed to less safe conditions for homeless New Yorkers.

“We are still enforcing that. There's nothing dignified by living on the subway tracks,” he said. “If you need shelter, we will give you shelter. And to even insinuate that giving people the dignity of [housing] will contribute to some sick mind…shooting them is something I'm just not going to entertain.”

Back in Midtown, 37-year-old Manny was sitting outside of a church wrapped in blankets. He said he had no interest in sleeping in a city shelter that night.

He declined to give his last name out of fear for his safety. He said the only point of a shelter was to be able to shower and sleep and he hadn’t been able to do either the last time he was in one. The shower had been filled with urine and feces and when he was trying to sleep someone set a comforter on fire, he said.

“The shelter is a joke,” he said, adding he often buys movie tickets and falls asleep in the theater, then stays awake all night for safety, while riding the trains. He’s holding out hope of getting a placement for a single room through the Bowery Residents Committee. But he has no idea how long he might have to wait.

“How much money is allocated to homeless services?” he asked. “Instead of homeless services, how about you build some homes? That’s what we need.”

This story has been updated with additional information.