Advocates for New York’s homeless population held a vigil Sunday night for a homeless man shot dead the previous day in what police believe may be part of a deadly pattern of attacks in New York and Washington, DC.
Gathering at 148 Lafayette St., where a sleeping man was murdered on March 12, those who are and have faced homelessness joined with advocacy groups Open Hearts Initiative, VOCAL-NY and Housing Works, and several elected officials to mourn the needless loss of life while also calling upon the mayor to grant protections to those living on the streets.
“What we need right now is not just a cultural shift. Remember, we’re talking about our people. The people experiencing homelessness are our friends. They are our family. They can be me, they can be you. They’re the people standing behind me right now. So, what we need is an attitude to demand that the city and the state of New York end homelessness,” Jawanza Williams of VOCAL-NY said.
Mourners huddled amidst the falling snow with signs and electric candles, weeping over the senseless murder. Many in attendance pointed angry fingers at Mayor Eric Adams, urging him to make private accommodations available for homeless New Yorkers in the form of Safe Haven beds, stabilization beds, and single-occupancy hotel rooms, which they believe the unhoused are more likely to accept than congregate shelters.
“The city needs to immediately scale up access to Safe Haven and stabilization beds, where we know people will accept shelter. Until it does that, it should stop chasing people around and sweeping them off of streets and subways, forcing them into ever less safe locations. That’s not outreach, that’s harassment,” said Corinne Low, co-founder of the Open Hearts Initiative.
Police also believe the murder is linked to three other shootings in Washington, DC between March 3-9.
Those who have experienced homelessness recounted the traumatic experience in honor of the lost and in hopes of making a difference. Homeless rights survivor and advocate Shams DaBaron, also known as Da Homeless Hero, recalled the horror of living on the street.
“I’m deeply disturbed by these horrible attacks on homeless New Yorkers. When I was homeless, my biggest fear was dying. No one wants to be on the streets or in the subways—people end up there because the only other option they are given is to enter a congregate shelter that dehumanizes them,” DaBaron said. “Homelessness shouldn’t be the pathway to a homicide.”
Late Sunday night Mayor of New York City Eric Adams and Washington, DC mayor Muriel Bowser released a joint statement after discussing the investigation.
“Our communities in DC and New York City are heartbroken and disturbed by these heinous crimes in which an individual has been targeting some of our most vulnerable residents. The two of us spoke about how our teams can coordinate and help one another, and we are calling on everyone in our cities to look at the images of the suspect and report any information, however small, that may be useful,” part of the statement read.
The NYPD and Crime stoppers are offering a joint reward of $10,000 for information leading to the suspect’s capture.
Anyone with information in regard to the identity of the shooter can call Crime Stoppers at 800-577-TIPS (for Spanish, dial 888-57-PISTA). You can also submit tips online at crimestoppers.nypdonline.org, or on Twitter @NYPDTips. All calls and messages are kept confidential.