EXCLUSIVE | Homeless New Yorkers express shock, fright to amNY after gunman shoots two unhoused men on Lower Manhattan streets

Facing the usual dangers of living on the street, New York’s unhoused community is nonetheless reeling from reports of a merciless gunman firing on two homeless individuals as they slept Saturday night, killing one of them.

Abed Campos has been living on the Lower Manhattan streets for almost a decade and has seen a lot during that time, yet nothing quite like the macabre scene he came across on Saturday afternoon. 

Campos says he was the victim’s neighbor on Lafayette Street near Howard Street in SoHo for three days, until he heard gunshots ring out during the early hours of March 12.

Abed Campos recounts the grim discovery. Photo by Dean Moses

“I woke up to the sounds of gunshots, like four gunshots, and I peeked out of the bag, my comforter. Later that morning, at 10 o’clock, I took a look at the guy and I figured he was okay – camping inside a sleeping bag. Two o’clock comes by and he’s still in the bag and I said I wonder what happened,” Campos told amNewYork Metro.

About an hour later, he said, he approached his neighbor and made the spine-chilling discovery.

The homeless are being targeted as they sleep. Photo by Dean Moses

“So, I touch him to try and wake him up. ‘Hey, yo, you alright?’ …He is very stiff. I took a look at him because sometimes you sleep hard, but I saw some blood on his face. So, I went to the art store and the representative called the cops,” Campos said, adding that he entered the nearby Blick Art Materials at 148 Lafayette St. to report the incident.

Campos explained the discovery left him shaken and scared, since he always sleeps on the sidewalk. Before hearing that the deceased was one of two victims, he presumed the shooting was over a turf dispute since in the unhoused community arguments can occur over a desired sleeping location.

Remnants of where the victim slept were still crumpled against the sealed entrance of a loading bay at 148 Lafayette Street. Photo by Dean Moses
Remnants of where the victim slept were still crumpled against the sealed entrance of a loading bay at 148 Lafayette Street .Photo by Dean Moses

“People take it to heart. A fist fight happened over here a couple of years ago because one guy was in the other’s spot,” Campos explained.

Along Howard Street, between Lafayette and Crosby Streets, the remnants of where the victim slept were still crumpled against the sealed entrance of a loading bay — pieces of cardboard boxes, a dolly, and other items along with police tape are all that remain and for Campos this was all that was left of his friend.  

All along Howard and Lafayette Streets Crime Stopper posters showcase a gunman wanted for targeting homeless individuals. Photo by Dean Moses

Although the news of the incident is traveling fast, those impacted don’t have the same access to information as most New Yorkers.

Even with reward signs hanging around the neighborhood, some are still unaware. Michael Bellavista was taking shelter inside the Canal Street Station due to the cold weather. Despite living so close to where the incident took place, Bellavista wasn’t aware that it happened until amNewYork Metro approached him.

“I mean, I was totally unaware of this and now I’m kind of scared. I’m concerned,” Bellavista said.

Still, despite the dangers and the mayor pleading with impacted individuals to reside within shelters until the assailant is caught, Bellavista says he would rather take his chances on the street.

Michael Bellavista. Photo by Dean Moses

“The shelter system is not something that I want to go to because of the terrible conditions. I spent a lot of time in there and it’s terrible. There’s not much funding that goes into the homeless shelters,” Bellavista said. “I know the area, I am staying.”

The Partnership for the Homeless shared that 22 unhoused New Yorkers were killed last year, showcasing an increase in fatal attacks on those experiencing homelessness.

“These horrific attacks show that the people most in danger from violence on the street are those who are forced to live and sleep on them. These attacks once again highlight the need for our City to invest in measures that prevent homelessness in the first place, ensuring that people have safe, secure places to sleep and call home,” The Partnership for the Homeless said in a statement.

Jacquelyn Simone, policy director for the Coalition for the Homeless, said on Sunday that the weekend of violence should lead the Adams administration to change its outlook on the plight of the unhoused.

“Instead of feeding into the dangerous narrative of homelessness as a blight — a quality of life issue for housed New Yorkers — Mayor Adams needs to recognize that his policies are placing them in harm’s way,” Simone said in a statement Sunday. “Saturday’s tragedy is an urgent reminder that many unsheltered New Yorkers choose to bed down in the subways because that is where they feel the most safe in the absence of housing and low-barrier shelters. Instead of subway sweeps, the City and State must immediately open the promised housing and Safe Haven beds so that unsheltered New Yorkers have a safer place to stay inside.”