Street sweep showdown: East Village homeless encampment continues battle as city looks to clear them out again

The East Village’s Anarchy Row refuses to be swept away again as the homeless encampment’s residents continue to push back against the city sweep policy amidst a revolving door of removals.

Johnny Grima stood outside his tent on 9th Street and Avenue B and lit up a cigarette as he prepared to face the area’s third sweep within a week. With just himself and one other homeless individual remaining, he looked at the torn notice that ordered his removal and attempted to mentally prepare himself for yet another standoff.

The residents of Anarchy Row infamously engaged in a stalemate with NYPD on April 6 when the undomiciled refused to allow their meager dwellings–their only form of shelter–to be thrown into the back of a garbage truck. 

Since then, Grima has faced three more sweeps. After each one occurs, the community donates more tents back to the encampment which, in turn, brings more sweeps. Grima says he refuses to sleep without shelter that protects him from the rain and wind.

Johnny Grima showcases the removal notice. Photo by Dean Moses

“I have roots in this area since I was a child. Eleven years ago, I returned to homelessness and since then I’ve been with the homeless community out here. I just couldn’t leave what I consider to be my people,” Grima told amNewYork Metro.

For Anarchy Row, their demands are clear: the unhoused staying there will continue to rebel until they are offered housing and not shelters.

“We want permanent housing, where you can have your family over for a holiday, where you don’t have all these weird rules like curfews–I don’t want all that,” Sinthia Veev, an unhoused member of the encampment said.

Minutes before a sanitation truck parked on the outskirts of Tompkins Square Park, Grima said that living in constant fear of the seeps makes his already hard life, even harder.

A Sanitation truck arrives .Photo by Dean Moses
Sinthia Veev attempts to save her belongings. Photo by Dean Moses

“It is extremely hard on your self-esteem; you know what I mean? It’s not unique to myself. It’s pretty universal. It’s a struggle, man, you know, you’re never really safe,” Grima said.

When NYPD officers arrived with sanitation workers and members of DSS-DHS, Grima and Veev firmly planted their feet and refused to move aside. Joined by neighbors and homeless rights advocates, the group roared at the responding officers while Veev desperately rushed back and forth attempting to salvage her belongings before they were tossed away.

Camp defenders engage in a standoff with the NYPD. Photo by Dean Moses
One advocate yelled at the officers to leave. Photo by Dean Moses

Much akin to the beginning of the month, the group faced off with officers. For about an hour, the encampment defenders demanded the NYPD stop the sweep and leave.

After several more officers arrived and some heated words from those protecting their home, members of homeless outreach taped an updated removal notice above the tent — with a new scheduled date of April 20. The workers departed, having given the row notice that they’ll be back tomorrow.

Watching sanitation and the NYPD drive out of sight without the removal of any shelters felt like a great victory for Grima, Veev, and fellow defenders, still the anxiety remains. They know they will have to experience the same procedure in less than 24 hours.

A new notice is posted. Photo by Dean Mosessw