BY DEAN MOSES
What began as a routine response turned into an hours-long operation Tuesday night for members of the 13th Precinct who cleared out a homeless encampment at the corner of East 15th Street and First Avenue, across from Stuyvesant Town.
For months, large plastic sheets could be observed dangling from scaffolding mere feet away from local schools including P.S. 226 and the High School for Health Professions and Human Services. Inside the shadowy dwelling, a menagerie of obscure trinkets had been collected, ranging from mannequins to house plants, albeit without the house.
The outcroppings of this crude shelter were erected in February but grew larger over the summer as it steadily expanded, according to residents. Over the course of its tenure, it was developed along the sidewalk with shelves, a patio umbrella for shade, and even a microwave oven — all of which could been seen lugged out during the NYPD’s removal process on Tuesday.
The operation began just after 5 p.m., when the NYPD was called to deal with a violent altercation, which led to a suspect being apprehended. Following this arrest, officers tore down the encampment and place the belongings into storage until the suspect could collect them after release.
According to local residents who stopped to observe the commotion, the female who inhabited the area would not only collect items but also design clothing, which she then sold to passersby with aid from her boyfriend.
Shetay Lebon, a nearby resident who would often stop by to speak with the homeless individuals after learning of a mutual love of art and fashion told amNewYork Metro that they are “cool people.”
“The reason why I started talking to her is because she is like me, she draws clothes,” Lebon said.
Lebon shared that the homeless woman would often receive clothes from people, which she would mend and design.
“I don’t think that all of this stuff was gathered here automatically. She didn’t seem to have too many things attached to her. When I first met her, she used to hang out here drawing sneakers. She would just sleep here and then people would start bringing her things to create and then it became a pretty cool situation,” she said.
William Griffin, a religious volunteer who distributes food to the homeless was simply walking by when he stopped to watch the cleanup. As somebody who spends vast amounts of his free time attempting to care for the needy, he has a vested interest in situations like these.
“It’s been an ongoing war against the poor. I don’t want to give New York City a completely bad rap, they spend a ton of money, I think it’s over a billion dollars on homeless services annually but this city does not provide enough support for homeless people. This is the result. People have to live some place,” he said.
Griffin felt sympathy for both the individual whose property was now being hauled off in garbage bags, and the police officers who were performing the laborious task.
“It’s sad that the police are used as social services to clean up mental health issues, social work issues, and substance abuse issues. This is not poverty, this is destitution,” he added.
As Griffin expressed his concerns for the homeless, one onlooker shook her head and mumbled in disgust, “That’s somebody’s possessions they are touching,” while another man applauded the action with cheers, yelling, “Thank you for cleaning up de Blasio’s mess!”