An unhoused West Village resident says her already difficult life is being made even harsher due to harassment from the City.
Crystal Vails is 54 years old; she is a mother and grandmother and has been homeless for almost 15 years. Despite her arduous life she remains upbeat, having taken up residency on the sidewalk on 7th Avenue between 12th and 13th Street. Here she says she is equally accepted by her housed neighbors as she is scoffed at by them.
However, as hard as the world is for a homeless, Black female, Vails told amNewYork Metro that she is being browbeaten into being placed into a shelter through constant encampment sweeps that began on Mother’s Day.
“That Sunday was Mother’s Day. They came around, they put a poster up and the next day they did the sweep,” Vails remembered, also stating that a DSS-DHS outreach worker berated her. “They are very disrespectful. They don’t know how to talk; they talk down to you, but I am still human.”
Encampment removals see a task force of NYPD, DSS-DHS and sanitation workers remove tents and other structures on behalf of Mayor Eric Adams in an attempt to tackle street homelessness; however, according to Vails, she does not have any structures. She sits in the street on top of a blanket beside a cart full of her belongings. Since Mother’s Day, Vails says the sweeps have occurred on a weekly basis, something she feels is only being done to pressure her into shelter placement.
“I would rather be on the streets. I have freedom to move. When you are in a shelter you can’t move. If you move a certain way your stuff might be gone, and the staff steals,” Vails said.
Valis also said she has a City-FHEPS voucher and is hoping she will be able to find her way off the streets and into an apartment. Yet in the meantime she claims she is being threatened with forced hospitalization, something she feels was just a ploy to get her off the sidewalk.
“They think everybody’s crazy because they are on the street, it’s not that I’m crazy, I’m just trying to survive,” Valis said.
Despite what Valis cites as an extraordinarily hard experience, she is happy she has some support. She explained that some residents in the area offer loose change while children have written “Stop the sweeps” in chalk around her little nook area where she resides.
“The babies wrote that,” Valis said, pointing at the words.
While DSS-DHS did not comment directly regarding why Vails is being repeatedly swept despite not obstructing the sidewalk with a shelter, a representative from the agency indicated that some individuals refuse services outright, leaving them to continue to canvas the same locations.
“Our comprehensive continuum of care is designed to position vulnerable New Yorkers for long-term housing stability, especially in cases where individuals are unable to retain their housing time and again without vital supports. Our outreach teams are out there 24X7, engaging vulnerable New Yorkers citywide, working to build trust and encourage them to come inside and accept services. We know it can take multiple engagements to truly address long-overlooked and complicating factors, including mental health and substance use challenges, which can result in an unending cycle of housing instability, and we remain committed to making those important breakthroughs,” a DSS-DHS spokesperson said.