East Village homeless residents, cops and city officials in standoff over encampment crackdown

Homeless individuals in the East Village engaged police in an hours-long standoff in a vain effort to stop the NYPD, Sanitation Department and the Department of Social Services from breaking up their encampment. 

A handful of unhoused individuals on East 9th Street and Avenue B have claimed a small patch of sidewalk for their own with tents and other crude materials to protect them from the elements, dubbing it Anarchy Row. For quite some time, this group has kept to themselves, trying to stay warm and dry and build an environment that provides some semblance of safety.  

Since the beginning of Mayor Eric Adams’ latest initiative to move the homeless out of the subways and now remove their encampments, a number of undomiciled people have told amNewYork Metro they live in constant fear for their safety. Many stated that the perception of the homeless since the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic has gone from bad to worse, from being targeted by a killer as they slept on the streets to now seen as scourge upon the city streets.

Those residing on Anarchy Row waited on bated breath for when they would receive their eviction notices, and on April 4 they were told to leave within two days.

The small group prepared themselves for what has been a cold, rainy battle beneath a scaffolding and on a small patch of sidewalk since 6 a.m. on April 6. Each person stood their ground within their tent while sitting in their chairs and sleeping bags. Joining them were homeless rights advocates who sat together, hand in hand, in an attempt to protect the encampment.

They refused the city’s appeal for them to enter the shelter system, stating that it is too dangerous and abusive.

One of the residents in tears.Photo by Dean Moses
Police cordoned off the block of East 9th Street and Avenue B to clear out the Anarchy Row encampment.Photo by Dean Moses
Photo by Dean Moses

Jordan has been homeless for almost three years and started living in an encampment on 9th Street and Avenue B for about a month. She says that they are in constant danger due to stigmas placed on homeless residents, and noted undomiciled individuals are beaten, set on fire, robbed, and abused, and state they feel there is no one to turn to but each other.

In tears, she pleaded with Mayor Adams for help. 

“Please help us. We just need help. We want to get out of the streets, we don’t want people to hurt us either,” Jordan said.

 “It’s like you don’t know what could happen. We are all in danger and we’re just trying to survive. That’s what we’re trying to do–live.  We really, really need help. We need apartments, we need to be given a private room to live and come out of the streets because this is sick. I’m scared, we’re scared,” she added.  

Jordan, visibly shaken as the sweep enforcers closed in, says she doesn’t know what will become of her if she is removed from the area. She believes she may have to sleep in a stairwell or in an exposed street but that creates open access for danger. 

“That’s how I’ve been surviving, back and forth. Back and forth. We are not giving up. We are not trying to fight back, we just need the help,” Jordan said.

Photo by Dean Moses
Photo by Dean Moses
Photo by Dean Moses
Photo by Dean Moses
Photo by Dean Moses
Photo by Dean Moses

A gaggle of press documented the standoff but were pressured by officials at the scene to leave the area as they began the removal process. Chants rang out, “Let the press stay,” as officers cordoned off the block with caution tape.

During the removal process amNewYork Metro observed several members of the NYPD appear visibly upset and shaken over what they were being asked to do—some even cried as they heard the pleas of the homeless. One officer grimaced while recording the incident, while another was asked by an advocate “If you didn’t want to be here to do this why didn’t you just call out” to which the officer said, “I didn’t know I was going to be here.”

An officer becomes emotional.Photo by Dean Moses

The attention of this standoff prompted Council Member Carlina Rivera to arrive on the scene. She attempted to help mitigate the situation as DSS-DHS outreach teams stated the services available to them.

Officials even requested for the tents to be taken down, and if so, they promised not throw out the encampments belongings. However, the homeless individuals and advocates stated that this effort was about taking a stand against Adams’ initiative.

Outreach services offered Kevin, one of the individuals residing in the encampment, aid, but he furiously refused, becoming emotional in the process. He stated that the only reason he is homeless is because his wife passed away and he was not on his apartment’s lease.

Officials tried to offer Johnny Grima, another unhoused person at the site, a room in a hotel. But when he inquired if this site has a metal detector, which it did, he animatedly refused stating that it’s just another homeless shelter and he was being baited to leave.

Eventually, officers began arresting some of the advocates on the scene.  It is currently unknown if the homeless individuals in the camp were also arrested.

After this article was published, a mayor’s office spokesperson issued the following statement: “The mayor has been clear from the beginning that every New Yorker deserves dignity, and there is no dignity in living on the street. We have been engaged at this site for weeks, and our teams then and today were respectful and made repeated offers of shelter and wraparound services to provide these individuals with clean, safe places to sleep tonight. We will not be dissuaded from offering those on the streets the support they deserve, while ensuring that our public spaces remain clean for all New Yorkers.”