‘I can’t keep doing this’: East Village homeless residents left cuffed and displaced after latest sweep

Nothing can tell the story of homeless encampment sweeps more accurately than Anarchy Row on May 4.

Surrounded by a legion of NYPD officers, homeless East Village locals Sinithia Veev and Johnny Grima ended their stand against encampment sweeps in vastly different circumstances but were left just as emotionally damaged.

Knowing their makeshift home on East 9th Street and Avenue B was about to be destroyed thanks to a notice posted by the city, the undomiciled people there and supporters attempted to prevent the sweep by barricading themselves in. Several individuals constructed a spider web of tape around the tent site before reinforcing it with wooden pallets. 

For Johnny Grima, his encampment is a symbol of the suffering he and fellow homeless individuals face living on the streets. He stated that he feels unsafe within a shelter and adds that while he is demanding permanent housing, he will not accept an apartment unless his fellow camp dwellers received the same offer.

Those in the encampment chanted: “Housing is a human right!” Photo by Dean Moses
Supporters made signs to show their disdain for the sweeps. Photo by Dean Moses

“I’m not going to accept an apartment from the city until they get an apartment for each of my people around me. And I have a list. I’ve not forgotten any of them,” Grima said.

The crude barrier did little to stop the NYPD and DHS from accessing the area. Poking their heads inside the tangled display, amNewYork Metro observed DHS only offer services to one member of the encampment. Sinitha Veer was considering accepting a room offered by DHS as long as it had a private room and bathroom.

But as Veev stepped to the side to contemplate the offer, those still in the encampment roared “Housing is a human right!” Before the NYPD threatened the group with arrests. Taping off the sidewalk, an army of police officers enveloped the area much to the chagrin of supporters and pedestrians who had stopped in their tracks to criticize the forced removal.

A homeless rights supporter screams at the NYPD for the removal. “I have fed homeless people this week, what have you done?” he asked.Photo by Dean Moses
The NYPD bag the tents. Photo by Dean Moses

Tearing down the makeshift barrier, officers made several arrests, cuffing those who stood in solidarity with the encampment while also tearing down the tents. Veev, overcome with despair, fell in a heap while watching her home be torn down. 

“I don’t care. I just don’t care anymore,” she cried, holding her head in both hands. “I can’t keep doing this.”

Fellow resident Grima refused to exit his tent. This prompted responding officers to rip him from it. Losing a shoe in the process, the homeless man was carried by a gaggle of officers through the street until he was placed in the back of an arrest vehicle, thus allowing the removal to continue. Eight individuals were arrested in total.

Sinthia Veev is overcome with despair. Photo by Dean Moses
Sinthia Veev is overcome with despair. Photo by Dean Moses

Onlookers decried watching Grima’s undignified arrest for merely sleeping on the streets. Neighbors and even those simply walking their dogs joined in the unified cry, “Housing is a human right!”

Last week, Mayor Eric Adams declared that his administration would add more than $170 million in the Fiscal Year 2023 executive budget to provide what he says will be high-quality services and resources for homeless New Yorkers as well as pushing for legislation to convert unused hotels into affordable housing.

Both announcements come as his administration continues with his homeless initiative, dismantling encampments and removing unhoused individuals out of the subway system.  Many of these undomiciled individuals do not want to be forced to return to city-run homeless shelters that have proven unsafe in the past.

Supporters were also cuffed. Photo by Dean Moses
Supporters were also cuffed. Photo by Dean Moses

“We have an amazing group of people on the street every day building that trust,” Adams said during a press conference, “We’re showing compassion, caring, and we have to be built to trust.”

After seeing another homeless man cuffed for simply sleeping on the street, many will be left to wonder how that trust is being built.

When reached for comment, the Mayor’s office directed amNewYork Metro to a statement Adams made upon the release of his homeless initiative statistics: “I have said since we started this initiative that every New Yorker deserves dignity, and we are demonstrating that this is possible. Our teams are working professionally and diligently every day to make sure that every New Yorker living on the street knows they have a better option while ensuring that everyone who lives in or visits our city can enjoy the clean public spaces we all deserve.”