A tale of two sweeps: Lower Manhattan homeless encampments end with vastly different fates

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Two separate homeless encampments came under the threat of sweeps on May 11.
Photos by Dean Moses

James Doukas and Niko are a homeless couple who have been living on an East Village sidewalk for most of the year. On Wednesday their meager tent was scheduled to be swept away like so many others before it.

Waking up around 8 a.m., Doukas emerged from his tent outside 780 Broadway to find a slew of local supporters and press photographers. Concerned about the impending removal, Doukas and his longtime partner felt reassured by the crowd. 

The homeless couple told amNewYork Metro that they are not against accepting services from the city but due to previous accommodations, they are extremely skeptical.

“We’re a couple. Niko has been through a very traumatic experience and she’s afraid to be alone. She was in the shelter system once and within an hour she got beat up and had a tooth knocked out, so she’s terrified to go in. Being a couple who want to get a domestic partnership, but don’t have a copy of her divorce decree so we couldn’t get it. They told us we were going to be in a couple of shelter with a bed. We threw away 75% of our stuff and went to this place. You had to sleep sitting up in a chair from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., you’re not allowed to talk. It’s like being in a prison,” Doukas said.

Niko. Photo by Dean Moses
James Doukas. Photo by Dean Moses

The pair say they fell on hard times after they said a man they were renting an apartment from himself went through the eviction process, which also forced them out.  Doukas said he and his partner have been homeless since February 26, which also happened to be his birthday.

“It’s just been horrible. You know, I’ve never been in a situation like this before,” Doukas explained. “I grew up very wealthy and I am baffled about the way people are treated. They look at you like you are subhuman because you are living on the street.”

As the couple hunkered down and waited for NYPD officers, DHS agents, and DSNY workers to arrive, a local resident spied the commotion, telling amNewYork that she is happy about the removal since she believes they are taking up too much space on the sidewalk.

Another homeless individual nearby wakes up to the awaiting sweep. Photo by Dean Moses
James Doukas and Niko prepare themselves for the sweep.Photo by Dean Moses

This is something the undomiciled say they deal with on a daily basis, feeling as though they are criminalized for being homeless.

“They treat us like we are criminals because we are homeless and I don’t understand why they want someone to sleep on a piece of cardboard exposed,” Doukas said.

Following several hours of waiting and dreading, the duo received an offer to be placed in a Long Island City hotel that would accommodate both of them without a curfew. Ecstatic, Doukas dismantled his tent and threw it into the garbage, stating that he will no longer need it with a roof over his head. He did, however, state that they believed the only reason they were accepted into these accommodations is due to journalists being on site.

James Doukas folds up his tent. Photo by Dean Moses
Michele raced to save his belongings. Photo by Dean Moses
DHS looks on. Photo by Dean Moses

“It is a direct result of you guys being here,” Doukas told amNewYork Metro. “Had it not been for you guys being here this wouldn’t have happened. Thank you very much for your help.”

Not everyone was so fortunate, however. A mere two blocks away a homeless individual who identified himself as Michele was being surrounded by NYPD, DHS, and DSNY members. Instructing the man to vacate the area, he was forced to lug his belongings under their watchful gaze. DHS outreach members attempted to speak with Michele, but he refused to talk.

He did, however, express frustration to amNewYork Metro over the removal. As sanitation workers removed pieces of cardboard, he sucked on a cigarette, dejected.

“I gotta go somewhere, I don’t know where. I gotta call a friend or something… I don’t know,” Michele said.

The camp is torn down. Photo by Dean Moses
And thrown away. Photo by Dean Moses
Michele is forced to move.Photo by Dean Moses