Four unhoused men braving the cold on 35th Street and 1st Avenue in Murray Hill had already begun packing their belongings by the time a contingent representing the NYPD, Sanitation Department, and Department of Social Services arrived Wednesday morning to get them out of there.
Huddled in jackets, they told amNewYork Metro that they had mentally prepared for the sweep; such is life on the streets amid the city’s ongoing efforts to sweep away homeless encampments from the streets.
The most important issue for them was to ensure their necessary items were secure: hats, coats, identification cards, and food. According to Alex, one of the four homeless men taken up shelter under Sweetgreen and using cardboard boxes as a mattress, such things as hot meals or simple personal belongings are a luxury.
Earl Martin, a senior who has been living on the streets for six years, climbed out of his makeshift shelter to greet the arriving outreach worker. He was ready to accept placement, as long as that placement saw him secure in a single room away from the dangers of a congregate setting.
However, the DHS agent responded by only offering shared lodgings before swiftly moving on.
“When the pandemic started, they were giving everyone single rooms,” Martin said. “I do not want to go into a dormitory situation; that is all that the housing providers are offering. If they had a single room where a qualified counselor walks, make their day-to-day assessment in a single room, not in a dormitory, where I’m exposed to three or four people I would.”
Without what Martin considered a safe place from both COVID-19 and strangers, he was left to gather his belongings, ditch what he couldn’t carry, and move elsewhere.
Kevin, known locally as OG, is another homeless senior who is unable to stand without the use of a walker also faced the same issue. Kevin explained that he has been living on the street after his wife passed away and he was evicted for not being on the lease.
Having been through the shelter system, Kevin explained that he would only accept single rooms going forward. Rough sleeping hasn’t been much easier; the disabled homeless individual explained that he recently was forced to spend six nights in jail after he says he was falsely accused of a sex assault by another undomiciled person.
Unraveling a piece of paper, Kevin showcased that the charges were ultimately dropped, but he was forced to live with the consequences of a false accusation.
Still, with life as harsh as it is, he says he would rather battle the cold and the insecurity of the streets than be placed in a shared shelter room.
“I am tough,” Kevin said of the cold.
Despite the frigid temperatures, and Kevin’s age and disability, DHS declared that all they had to offer was a shared double room.
As DSNY got to work clearing the encampment, Martin and Kevin felt were quite literally left out in the cold.
The two younger members of the encamp, Alex and Mario agreed to take services and share a room. However, while Martin was able to move on, Kevin was left in the same location, hunched in the chill.
amNewYork Metro reached out to DHS regarding if there are special circumstances for the senior and disabled homeless persons, but have yet to receive a response.