When the NYPD and sanitation workers showed up at a homeless encampment in Manhattan’s East Village Wednesday morning to clear the residents’ belongings and tents, the small community refused to go.
Protesters surrounded the homeless men and women, who sometimes refer to the encampment as “Anarchy Row,” as they repeatedly refused offers for a spot at a nearby shelter and tried to salvage what they could of their few belongings from the street.
After more than six hours, however, the police had had enough.
“Because you refuse to leave, you are now subject to arrest,” an officer said on a loudspeaker, minutes before others began zip-tieing the hands of people standing near the huddle of homeless men and women, who refused to leave. “If you resist, there may be additional charges.”
At least six people were arrested.
The police and workers had arrived at the encampment—which consists of tents and tarps on a sidewalk near Tompkins Square Park—around 9:30 a.m. as part of New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ recent mission to clear the streets of the homeless in the next two weeks. But what started as a routine “sweep” quickly turned into the most high-profile test of Adams’ plan yet.
Dozens of activists showed up to protest the sweep and stand in solidarity with the unhoused people. Members of the press also lined the street, and even New York City Councilwoman Carlina Rivera, who represents the district where the encampment is located, came to speak with officials.
As people were cleared one by one from the encampment, sanitation workers took the tents left behind, along with those individuals' belongings, and dumped them into a garbage truck parked behind the police van where people were being taken into custody.
“We already have nothing,” Johnny Grima, a homeless man who lived in the encampment, told VICE News. “At least half the time, they’ll break the rules and force us to throw out our stuff and try to threaten us that if we try to claim our property, we’ll be arrested.”
The NYPD couldn’t confirm whether activists or homeless residents were arrested and are still determining who will face charges or receive summonses. But NYPD officers on the scene warned homeless people who refused to leave the encampment that they were “obstructing the Department of Sanitation from carrying out their duties.”
Nearly 250 encampments, mostly in Manhattan, have already been cleared. It’s not clear if this is the first time anyone’s been arrested, although none of those sweeps received Wednesday’s level of pushback.
The people who lived in the five tents along 9th Street were warned about a possible sweep Tuesday morning by the Department of Homeless Services, which posted a notice nearby. (Adams’ plan promises to notify residents at least 24 to 48 hours in advance, although homeless people say that doesn’t always happen.) The sweep was scheduled to take place sometime between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m., representatives with the East Village Mutual Aid Group told VICE News.
About an hour after arriving, sanitation representatives repeatedly offered to take people settled on the block to nearby shelters. Each time, their offers were rejected, with the unhoused citing bad prior experiences staying at shelters.
“Homeless shelters and safe havens are abusive environments,” Grima said. “How do you expect people to get help for their mental health and substance abuse issues in an abusive environment?”
In the chaotic final hours of the standoff, activists and unhoused people chanted “Fuck 12,” slang for law enforcement, and “Let the press stay,” as officers restricted a gaggle of reporters to a small area on either side of the tents set up on the sidewalk. All the while, the police stood and waited in the street.
But the residents refused to budge.
“There are more homes vacant in New York City than there are homeless folk in the entire state,” Cynthia, an encampment resident, told VICE News. “We are making a political stand here. We are drawing a line in the sand. We don’t want to go into shelters. We don’t want to go into safe havens. We want apartments for homeless people. And we are saying so. This is us saying so.”
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