Videos Show NYC Tearing Down Homeless People’s Tents With Garbage Trucks

NYC Mayor Eric Adams has plans to dismantle all the city’s homeless encampments in the next two weeks.
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Manny, who is homeless, sits on a street in Manhattan on March 14, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt /Getty Images

Within days of Mayor Eric Adams’ announcement that he wanted all of New York City’s homeless camps gone, sanitation workers and police had already started dismantling tents and throwing away people’s belongings.

One viral video posted by photojournalist Karla Cote shows a known homeless encampment underneath a bridge in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, being systematically dismantled. Workers swept up trash, pulled down tents, and tossed mattresses into the back of a garbage truck.

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Over the next few weeks, scenes like that will only become more common. Last Friday, Adams promised to rid the city of more than 180 homeless camps as part of an effort to make the city safer and cleaner for everyone. And he doubled down on his plan Tuesday. 

“We’re walking past people who are living on cardboard boxes, in these makeshift, inhumane houses—this is just not right,” Adams said. “There’s nothing dignified about people living in the streets.”

But Adams’ efforts haven’t been well-received by everyone, especially during a week of unusually cold temperatures during spring in New York City. Critics say that homeless sweeps only push the unhoused around without offering any meaningful solutions—and destroy what little possessions they’ve gathered in the process.

“Once again, Mayor Adams is demonstrating his lack of understanding of unsheltered homeless New Yorkers,” Jacquelyn Simone, policy director for the Coalition for the Homeless, said in a statement. “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.”

As part of his initiative, the mayor has also pushed for creating more beds for the homeless in shelters across the city. Adams announced Tuesday that 350 beds have been added to the city’s shelters under his administration, just 150 short of his 500-bed goal. He has also promised to expand on-site services like behavioral health care meant to help them transition into permanent housing. Mental health and homeless advocates have also been invited to attend the sweeps.

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But many homeless actively choose not to live in shelters. They can be overcrowded, dangerous, and seen as undignified. Around 45,000 people in New York City already spend the night in a shelter every night, according to the most recent estimate from 2021. And nearly 2,000 sleep on the street or the subway.

“A lot of the issues stem from the lack of freedom, the rules, the curfews. They're told when they can do this, when they can do that,” said Josiah Haken, CEO of City Relief, a local nonprofit that provides New York’s unhoused population with food, clothes, employment opportunities, and other services. “And then there is the risk of being surrounded by people who you don't know, people who you don't have a relationship with, people who you don't trust.”

Then again, the streets may not be much safer for the homeless. Just recently, a man shot five homeless people in New York and Washington, D.C., two of which were fatal. And another homeless man was stabbed on the subway in February.

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Commuters have also especially complained about homeless people in the subway. Last month, Adams announced a plan to have city workers remove more than 1,000 homeless people seeking shelter in the city’s public transit system. Earlier this month, a homeless man pushed 40-year-old Michelle Go onto the tracks at a subway station and killed her, leading to more blame for the city’s violence on the homeless community. 

Two years ago when the coronavirus pandemic began, much of the city’s homeless population were given hotel rooms to stay in since the spaces were virtually empty without tourists to fill them. But as the city has reopened, many have been pushed back out onto the street with nowhere to stay.

COVID has also put immense financial strain on Americans and pushed some of them into housing insecurity and homelessness for the first time. 

“I met several people who had been gainfully employed for years and were sharing a room for $200 a week. But then when they lost their employment, they end up out on the sidewalk,” Haken said. 

Adams also caught some flak after he was seen partying with A$AP Rocky, Floyd Mayweather, Dr. Oz, and Cara Delevingne at a Manhattan party hosted by Wells Fargo on Monday. As homeless people were being forced from shelter, the party's attendees were celebrating the launch of Bilt, a credit card that offers rewards for users who pay rent with it, with champagne. 

At the party, Adams told attendees that there were two kinds of people in the world.

“Those who live in New York, and those who wish they could,” Adams said to a cheering crowd of social media influencers and celebs while on stage with Wyclef Jean. “Everyone who moved to Florida, get your butts back to New York City, because New York City is where you want to be.”

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