Game of roams: Homeless New Yorkers say they’re subject to sleepless game amid city sweeps

Homeless New Yorkers who are the subject of regular encampments sweeps say they’re not getting the solution they want to get them off the streets for good.

Instead, they say, life has become something of a chess game — moving from one spot when told to leave, but going to a nearby corner to take refuge until the city places them in check once more.

“It’s tiring, it shouldn’t be happening like this, man. I don’t sleep, you know what I am saying? Every time this happens, I don’t sleep,” Neil Singh told amNewYork Metro.

Known locally as Wolf, Singh is homeless, and he lives everyday with angst over what has become known as the sweeps — Mayor Eric Adams’ initiative to remove street encampments across the five boroughs and offer outreach services in the process. However, according to those who live through that process, the sweeps feel akin to harassment, and the housing they’re being offered is less desirable than weathering the storm outside.

On Aug. 10, at Forsyth and Canal Streets, Singh hectically gathered bags filled with plastic bottles, cans, and metal he had collected. Without a job or a home, what would seem like junk to many New Yorkers is invaluable to him and his only source of income.

Stricken with fear that his belongings might end up in the back of a sanitation truck, he rushed to salvage what he could during Wednesday’s sweep — but he had a plan. 

The homeless rush to move their belongings. Photo by Dean Moses
Sanitation and DSS watch Singh and friends move the items. Photo by Dean Moses

When the city performs a sweep, they are required to post a notice in the area they will be working within, including the address of where the encampment is situated.

Knowing this, Singh looked to beat the coalition of DSS agents, NYPD officers, and sanitation workers at the game the mayor created by simply moving his items one street away, thus out of range of the sweep and therefore saving them from the trash pile.

“That’s my money, that’s my food, my clothes, my water, my everything,” Singh said, lugging the bags.

Singh didn’t have to do it alone. Hearing word of the sweep, local community members arrived in Chinatown to aid him with the move. Both the housed and unhoused made a joint effort to spare Singh the pain of losing any more of his belongings. Pushing carts and touting plastic containers, they cleared the area.

“They are a part of the community, just like anyone else,” Sarah Gold said, a local resident who offered her help. 

Singh told amNewYork Metro that he would love to accept services from outreach workers, yet he declared that the offerings are not fit for human rights. Singh declared he would leave the streets in a heartbeat if he was offered a private room that can be locked. After previously staying in shelters, Singh said other residents are able to enter his room as they please, creating a dangerous environment.

Locals worked together to move belongings. Photo by Dean Moses
Locals worked together to move belongings. Photo by Dean Moses

“I would take it right now [the services], all I want is my privacy. I just want my door locked and not just for me, for everybody in the shelter,” Singh said. “Why can’t I have my room door locked?” 

An attending NYPD officer said he would be willing to make a call for Singh if he desired, however, he also stated that he is unaware of the shelters rules and Singh would have to speak to DSS.

Candidly, the homeless man revealed that he would wait for the sweep team to leave and then return back to Forsyth and Canal streets. With the sweeps doing little to prevent encampments and instead merely causing anxiety among the city’s most vulnerable population, many are asking why these initiatives are proceeding to take place.

“Neil’s plight mirrors that of many other homeless New Yorkers, who find themselves harassed, exhausted, and worn down because of Mayor Adams’ Broken Windows effort to get homeless people out of sight. And maybe that’s the point. These sweeps are designed not to help people, but to break spirits. Mayor Adams and Commissioner Jenkins must stop these sweeps and offer people permanent homes,” Karim Walker said, an outreach worker and organizer with the Safety Net Project.

amNewYork Metro reached out to the mayor’s office and is awaiting a response.

Sanitation removes bags. Photo by Dean Moses