Mayor Adams announces new homeless initiative amidst large-scale Chinatown sweep

The city performed a massive homeless encampment sweep at the entrance to the Manhattan Bridge Tuesday.

A large settlement of unhoused men and women had taken shelter beneath the looming architecture that serves as the vehicle entrance to the Manhattan Bridge. Akin to separate rooms, the undomiciled had set up makeshift beds between the columns of the Greek Revival triumphal arch and colonnade. 

The area had become strewn with trash and belongings after the inhabitants had been ordered to leave. Although roaring vehicles zoom by, many of those who call this space home feel it is a better alternative to what they cite as a dangerous shelter system.

Akin to separate rooms, the undomiciled had set up makeshift beds between the columns of the Greek Revival triumphal arch and colonnade. Photo by Dean Moses
Local unhoused individuals vacate the area. Photo by Dean Moses

While many of his peers had moved on, Damien, his dog Disco, and a friend were left behind. The cart in which they hauled their belongings had suffered a malfunction in the wheel, leaving him to attempt to fix it before he could vacate the area. Damien told amNewYork Metro that he does not harbor hatred for the NYPD or DSS who sweep him, admitting he understands why it is done. However, he remains adamant that he will not accept shelter service during its current state.

“I know what the shelter looks like, I would rather stay in prison. If they didn’t do this [the sweeps] it would be a lot easier over here. The fact is we have to tear down and run,” Damien said.

Damien. Photo by Dean Moses
Disco the dog is comforted by his owner. Photo by Dean Moses

NYPD officers scouted the bridge entrance while DSS outreach teams briefly engaged with those who hadn’t immediately fled.  Falling under the purview of the DOT, city workers also began to pour bleach around the perimeter. 

One female occupant stirred from a small encampment perched on a large stone brick. Although she states that the bridge is not her regular haunt, she expressed that life on the streets under the shadow of the sweeps is not an easy one.

“We are ignored, bottom of the barrel. I am also trying to help people get off of the streets, to create a support system,” Kay told amNewYork Metro.

The Sweep begins. Photo by Dean Moses
Kay leaves her encampment to the sweep. Photo by Dean Moses

As the large Chinatown encampment was being swept and washed away, Mayor Eric Adams made an announcement at City Hall that he touts will have a profound effect on street advocacy. The project is promised to train volunteers including individuals who have experienced homelessness to advocate for and offer services to the unhoused.

“The Street Homeless Advocacy Project is another step in the right direction when it comes to helping our brothers and sisters experiencing homelessness,” Mayor Eric Adams said. “Since we started this work, we’ve made great strides, and I know we can do better. It won’t be easy, but we can no longer just walk by and pretend this is someone else’s problem. We have a moral duty to try to break this cycle of neglect and despair. With New Yorkers helping New Yorkers, I know we can build trust with homeless New Yorkers and provide them with the resources they need to come off of the streets or out of the subways and find shelter.”  

The initiative is dubbed the Street Homeless Advocacy Project or SHAP, the team will consist of volunteers who will be trained to offer outreach and support. The announcement was not well received by advocates, however, with the Open Hearts Initiative releasing a scathing response.

Bleach is strewn. Photo by Dean Moses
Items are tossed away. Photo by Dean Moses

“Just hours before Mayor Adams delivered his speech about outreach to homeless folks, his police officers were conducting sweeps and stripping New Yorkers of their belongings without offering them a safe place to go. Engaging peers with lived experience in outreach can be positive, but nothing will change if volunteers and outreach teams don’t have the tools to offer anything new to folks on the streets. There’s a reason that thousands of New Yorkers are living on the streets, and it’s because many have not found the privacy and dignity they need in traditional congregate shelters. Punitive approaches like sweeps criminalize homeless New Yorkers and break down the trust that is required to get someone inside. This Homeless Rights Month, Mayor Adams and the City Council must fast-track housing, provide privacy and dignity in shelters, and once and for all, stop the horrific sweeps. Maybe if the mayor stopped canceling planned single-room sites, he’d have more beds for those in need,” Director of Organizing at the Open Hearts Initiative Sara Newman said in a statement.

An NYPD officer asks an unhoused man if he needs an ambulance. Photo by Dean Moses
A handcart hits the trash pile. Photo by Dean Moses

With those impacted telling amNewYork Metro time and time again that they refuse to accept services in the current shelter system, they are left to move from street to street with the sweeps constantly nipping at their heels. Individuals like Damien believe it is a tactic to wear down his resolve in hopes that he will give in and accept placement in what he feels is dehumanizing living conditions. Damien says his resolve remains steadfast, and he refuses to give in.

Max, a fellow homeless neighbor at the sweep told amNewYork Metro that he compares the shelter system to the infamous Rikers Island.

“It’s really bad, probably as bad as Rikers,” Max said.

Max, however, stated that he was offered a private room from outreach services, something he says he is willing to take to get off the streets.

Max watches the sweep. Photo by Dean Moses