Homeless advocates rail against Adams plan to take encampments off the sidewalks of New York

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NYPD tears down couple’s homeless encampment.
Photo by Dean Moses

Homeless rights advocates and organizations admonished Mayor Eric Adams after he announced his administration’s plan to remove homeless encampments from the streets of New York.

Adams told The New York Times Friday that homeless encampments will be dismantled and cleared off city streets over the course of a two-week period. This would, seemingly, leave the unhoused with only one option to turn to: homeless shelters that many homeless individuals refuse to frequent.

“We can’t stop an individual from sleeping on the street based on law, and we’re not going to violate that law. But you can’t build a miniature house made out of cardboard on the streets. That’s inhumane,” Adams told The New York Times.

“We’re going to rid the encampments off our streets and place people in healthy living conditions with wraparound services,” Adams added.

Both unhoused New Yorkers and those fighting for their rights recently telling amNewYork Metro that they feel the cold, harsh city streets are a safer alternative to an alleged abusive shelter system. Many who work with the homeless, and those who have directly experienced homelessness, are skeptical Adams’ initiative will do anything other than contribute to the hardship.

“Once again, Mayor Adams is demonstrating his lack of understanding of unsheltered homeless New Yorkers.  His administration has no plan to provide safe, single rooms where they can stay inside, and is relying instead on the tired and cruel old tactic of chasing those without shelter out of Manhattan,” said Jacquelyn Simone, policy director for the Coalition for the Homeless, in a statement.

“Like Giuliani, he will fail: Moving people to the outer boroughs will simply move them away from outreach workers, access to food, and the health and social services they need to survive. If the Mayor is serious about helping homeless people, he needs to open thousands of New Safe Haven and stabilization rooms and offer them to those in need, not take away what little protection they have from the elements and other dangers on the street,” Simone continued.

According to those who have spent time in shelters, living in these spaces makes people more susceptible to violence, sex abuse and theft. Moreover, many shelters enforce strict rules, including forcing residents to return to the streets during the day.

Shams DaBaron, known publicly as Da Homeless Hero, is not only a leading voice in the fight for homeless rights; he has also been working with the Adams administration hoping to carve a brighter, more humane future for New York’s unhoused community.

While DaBaron acknowledges Adams’ contributions, he also feels as though this new plan will fail to address the root of the problem.

“I appreciate the mayor’s effort to address the issues of homelessness and his acknowledgement that we are dealing with a crisis that needs emergency attention, but this plan can’t succeed unless the city gives homeless New Yorkers a safe alternative to congregate shelters,” DaBaron said.

“The data shows that just 312 individuals engaged by subway outreach teams accepted placement in the last month. That’s 312 total in a full month, when the mayor says 650 engagements are happening each day. Homeless New Yorkers need housing, and in the meantime, they need immediate offers of safe, private, and dignified accommodations in single-room Safe Havens and stabilization beds,” DaBaron added.

DaBaron also critiqued the mayor’s proposed timeline for this endeavor while speaking on the importance of first focusing on issues such as voucher programs which allow those impacted to find homes.

“Of course, my goal is to see homeless New Yorkers housed and if we’re able to spend the HONDA (Housing Our Neighbors with Dignity Act) money for hotel conversions we have a chance to begin reducing homelessness in this City. In addition, when we fix the bureaucratic barriers with the voucher programs, we will be able to make real progress. I’m working with the city to do this, but I don’t think it’s gonna happen in two weeks,” DaBaron said.

The mayor’s office urged that homeless individuals enter the shelter system since Adams believes living on the streets in encampments is inhumane and they should be afforded a place to stay.

“This effort is about taking care of our people and our public spaces because no New Yorker deserves to live on the street. We are breaking down siloes and working together across government to keep New Yorkers safe and our streets clean. These are basic expectations we have for our city, and we are going to deliver,” Mayor Eric Adams said.