Protestors laid out mock “bodybags” at the gates of City Hall Wednesday morning to dramatize the plight of the homeless crowded into shelters during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The bags represented the estimated 80 homeless deaths that demonstrators claim were caused by the shelter system. They demanded that the city pay for 30,000 hotel rooms and end “NYPD/Department of Homeless Services sweeps that remove people from more undesirable locations including trains, storefronts and highways underpasses.”
VOCAL-NY, an organization advocating for low-income New Yorkers, put the protest together. About 30 protestors, most of whom socially distanced, lined up along the gates of City Hall, shouting slogans and called for the mayor to do more to house homeless people in better conditions.
Privately, they hoped to block the entrance to stop his vehicle motorcade into the City Hall gates to dramatize their plight and get his attention.
The mayor however entered through the Broadway gate, undeterred by the protest.
Police stood at the ready, but did not intervene in the peaceful protest. Instead, they advised demonstrators to wear masks and to properly social distance to avoid spreading COVID-19.
“We are asking the mayor to please open up those hotel rooms that are not being used because the city is shut down,” said Roberto Monguel, a homeless man and an advocate. “In my shelter, we had six cases of COVID-19 alone and that’s not right. You would ask the staff about confirmed cases and they would nod in your face. It is not right for de Blasio to play dominos with people’s lives. At shelters, there is barely 36 inches between each bed. It is a war zone of contamination.”
Homeless advocates criticized the city’s removal of homeless from MTA trains at night, claiming the conditions they offer “are not safe.”
Gwendolyn Becker, a homeless advocate, said the city is taking people off the street, but putting them into unsafe conditions.
“The city is taking them off the streets and making them worse off than when they are in the shelters,” Becker said. “And what’s going on with the hospitals – when you go to the emergency room people are dying, then they go to the funeral home and nobody knows who anyone is. They are locking people up and putting them in jail just because they are homeless.”