Inside the latest sweep of a massive Manhattan homeless encampment reduced to a garbage heap

The latest of the city’s ongoing efforts to get homeless encampments off the streets of New York involved one of the larger shantytowns, located below the Manhattan Bridge.

A coalition of Department of Transportation workers, NYPD officers, and Department of Social Services agents undertook the massive homeless sweep under the archway on the Manhattan side Thursday — an effort that ended in a dispute.

Several unhoused individuals revealed to amNewYork Metro that they took up residence between the aging columns and roaring Lower Manhattan traffic in an attempt to escape the revolving removals that Mayor Eric Adams implemented earlier this year. They had been below the bridge for several weeks leading up to the Sept. 22 operation.

The camp’s residents peeked out from hanging sheets — some with toothbrushes still in their mouths — as DOT workers removed concrete barriers so they could back their garbage truck into the area. A dozen shanty-dwellers raced to salvage their belongings. 

During the sweep and cleanup process, a deluge of used needles could be observed amidst discarded plastic and cardboard. According to a source familiar with the process, authorities discovered over 32 needles with another sweep some three weeks prior resulting in the recovery of over 60.

Neil Singh has been staying on the bridge. Photo by Dean Moses
A man brushes is teeth as DOT arrives. Photo by Dean Moses

With the aid of volunteers, the undomiciled tore down their blankets and began bagging everything of value, including empty bottles that those experiencing poverty redeem in order to make money.

Things soon deteriorated, however, as DOT workers verbally clashed with the homeless and volunteers. A worker grabbed a bucket, only for a volunteer to snatch it back to prevent it from hitting the junk pile.

“Next time ask me first, don’t snatch it,” the worker scoffed. “It’s trash!”

This resulted in Neil Singh, who lived on the bridge, to come face-to-face with the worker. In an attempt to stop fists from flying, fellow workers pulled their comrade back as the pair exchanged profanities.

Another worker attempted to keep the peace by apologizing to Singh, revealing that the workers want to be there as much as the encampment wants them there.

“We don’t want to be here either, we are all human at the end of the day,” the worker said.

September marked six months since the sweeps began, and as he filled his cart, Singh told amNewYork Metro that he felt truly downtrodden. 

“It’s stressful, it’s really stressful. I thought we were good, I thought it was over, you know what I am saying?” Singh said. “Oh man, nobody cares. Everybody looks down on you.”

DOT removes a stone barrier so they can preform the sweep. Photo by Dean Moses
Some 32 needles were found during the sweep. Photo by Dean Moses
Andrew (right) and longtime friend gather their belongings and leave the bridge. Photo by Dean Moses

Singh spoke candidly about drug use, claiming that while he doesn’t use himself he is not going to abandon his friends who do, adding that life on the streets is difficult and many resolve to numb the pain.

“They’re my friends, they have been with me for the longest. I am not going to judge them, you know what I am saying? Maybe when they get high it falls out of their pocket or they forget about it,” Singh said. “I am not going to lie, the reason we use drugs is because of all this shit. It drives us to it. We don’t give a fuck no more.”

During the sweep one man, held up a stop sign and pleaded with the authorities to stop the sweep, but to no avail. So, they continued on bagging what they could, leaving what they couldn’t. 

Andrew, a homeless man, told amNewYork Metro that he recently accepted services from the city that allowed him to occupy his own room. Having had bad experiences in the shelter system, he adds that his current accommodations are a vastly better experience than any he has had prior. Unfortunately his longtime friend is still on the street so he is remaining with him until he can also find a single room.

“I do not deal with shelters. He’s still out here and they said when they have an opening they will let him know but I know they have rooms,” Andrew said.

Homeless Outreach speak to Andrew and his friend. Photo by Dean Moses
A man packs up his belongings. Photo by Dean Moses
Disco the dog watches from his encampment. Photo by Dean Moses
Removing the encampment. Photo by Dean Moses
Tossing the encamp into the trash pile. Photo by Dean Moses