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‘These men were our neighbors’: Vigil in Chinatown honors homeless victims of murder spree, and calls for change

Assembly Member Yuh-Line Niou spoke through tears at a vigil in Chatham Square. (Photo by Gabe Herman)
Assembly Member Yuh-Line Niou spoke through tears at a vigil in Chatham Square. (Photo by Gabe Herman)

BY GABE HERMAN | They may have been without a home, but the four victims of Saturday’s murder spree in Chinatown were mourned at a Monday vigil as part of the community.

The Oct. 7 vigil and rally took place at Chinatown’s Chatham Square, just steps away from where four homeless men were brutally bludgeoned to death while sleeping on the streets early on Oct. 5.

“I just want to address how horrific and tragic this incident is,” said Assembly Member Yuh-Line Niou, who hosted the event.

Four homeless men were killed, and another was seriously hurt in the attacks. Police arrested another homeless man, Randy Rodriguez Santos, 24, for the alleged attacks with a metal pipe.

“These men were our neighbors, part of our community,” Niou said.

After a moment of silence, Niou spoke through tears about the city’s housing crisis and escalating homeless population. She stressed the need for changes on the city and state level to make housing more affordable for all, and increase services for homeless residents.

“We need systemic change and we need it now,” Niou said.

A man placed a flower in a memorial in Chatham square for the homeless men who were killed. (Photo by Gabe Herman)

City Comptroller Scott Stringer said funds for homeless services have been cut in recent years.

“The mayor’s housing policy is fundamentally wrong,” Stringer said, adding that affordable housing is actually unaffordable for people in communities. “The words ‘low-income housing’ must be part of our policy.”

Earlier on Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced homeless outreach initiatives for Chinatown that include mental health teams, help in connecting to social services and emotional support for community members.

Other local officials at the vigil echoed calls for better housing policies and more compassion from society, including Representatives Nydia Velazquez and Carolyn Maloney, and City Council Member Helen Rosenthal.

A sidewalk memorial at East Broadway and Catherine Street. (Photo by Gabe Herman)

Jason Walker of Vocal New York, a social services organization, said there needs to be more compassion for the most vulnerable New Yorkers, and more attention to mental health issues that affect many people living on the streets.

“We don’t have a homelessness crisis, we have a housing crisis in this city,” said Walker, who was formerly homeless himself. “[Governor] Cuomo and de Blasio failed people who rely on them to protect their lives.”

A note placed at the Chatham Square memorial read, “Help us get a home not murdered.” (Photo by Gabe Herman)

Before the vigil began, Downtown resident Vicky Cameron told this paper at Chatham Square that there are inherent problems in the political system that punish poor people.

“We’re the richest country and we can’t take care of our own,” said Cameron, who is a member of Community Board 1 in Lower Manhattan.

Cameron said things wouldn’t change even after these attacks. “We come out, we’re outraged,” she said. But similar to gun violence in America, she said, after people offer thoughts and prayers, nothing really changes.

“When you’re mentally ill, you have nowhere to go,” Cameron said. “I’m so sad. This is such a travesty.”

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