Upended and uprooted: Chinatown homeless encampment swept away as citywide sting operations continue

At the tip of Sara D. Roosevelt Park on Chrystie and Canal Streets, Chinatown locals sped last week by a downtrodden troop who bent over bags of personal possessions, pushed shopping carts, and labored with brooms.

The group was facing yet another sweep: a removal of homeless encampments that the Adams administration set in motion back in March. From the shade of low-hanging branches, NYPD officers and parks enforcement officials watched the process with keen eyes yet the absence of homeless outreach services could be felt by both parties.

On July 7, the lives of these undomiciled men and women had been upended yet again — such is the life of those who call the street home.

amNewYork Metro followed the process and experienced the sweep first-hand.

“Why can’t they just get a job?” This is the question uttered from the lips of several passersby, an accusatory question Neil had heard before yet believes it is laced with ignorance.

For someone without a permanent residence or clean clothing, the prospect of work remains rather low. So, in order to earn a living, Neil collects scrap metal.

Rough sleepers are left to wallow in sorrow. Photo by Dean Moses
Unhoused are watched as they are forced to move. Photo by Dean Moses

“This is my scrap, I collect to make money,” Neil told amNewYork Metro, pointing to carts brimming with metallic objects. “Nobody else will help me out, nobody would care if I was bleeding out here.”

For Neil, the most distressing part of these sweeps is the prospect of losing his belongings. Although a cart of rusty objects seems like trash to most New Yorkers, to Neil it means access to food and clothing.

“Every day is the same thing — every day. They throw out all my stuff,” Neil said.

Neil was but one part of a larger group who briefly lived at the edge of the park and at that moment rushed to salvage what they could before the dreaded sanitation truck pulled in. Several individuals spoke of the horror of losing everything from personal identification cards to new clothing they had saved to wear. This fear of the sweeps comes in conjunction with the harsh reality of homelessness. The unhoused also must fend off attempted thefts from others who also live on the street.

A man who identified himself as Heeside explained that a notice of removal was placed the day prior.

Heeside moves out of the area. Photo by Dean Moses
Leftovers hit the garbage truck. Photo by Dean Moses

“They gave us a heads up but honestly the people I am living with are just as bad as them. I had a bag stolen. I used to live in Atlanta, and it was worse over there. Over there they would kill you,” Heeside said.

While some who worked vigorously to pack up and move blamed both the NYPD and mayor for the constant removals, others took a different outlook.

“You know, I understand it. This Park is for everybody, not just us. I have paid taxes throughout my life, I understand. They are trying things with the shelters, but it is not for me. The shelters are more dangerous than it is out here,” one man explained.

As time wore on the absence of the Department of Social Services became glaringly apparent, with a member of the NYPD asking if anyone had been offered services. As Neil worked to save sidewalk which led to a verbal argument.

Neil argues with officers. Photo by Dean Moses
Neil is left distraught. Photo by Dean Moses

“I have been cleaning the area all morning!” Neil yelled before turning to amNewYork Metro and stating, “Eric Adams should come and sleep out here and see what it is like.”

One passing woman who saw the confrontation stopped to aid Neil with his shopping cart as a garbage truck arrived. With no DSS outreach workers on the scene to offer services, those impacted are left to move from street to street, simply tearing down their encampment and taking it with them all for the process to repeat itself in a situation nobody wants to be a part of.

As reported by individuals amNewYork Metro has spoken with on the street, inside the Police Department and DSNY, members of neither agency desire to converge — yet they are all locked in a battle that never seems to end or make much headway.

According to a spokesperson from the mayor’s office, this sweep was unrelated to the encampment task force and instead was a separate action under the jurisdiction of the Parks Department, stating that this was the reason for DSS not being onsite and instead arrived one day later.

The mayor’s office also claims that, according to a notice hung up in the area from the Department of Homeless Services, the warning states that the removal may start on July 7 but could occur any time after that.

However, this discrepancy is the first time it has been reported that DSS has not been present at location on the date of a notice. Adding to the confusion was that the document indicated a time of 11 a.m. on the day the raid was to take place, which threw members of the NYPD for a loop.

The area is cleaned. Photo by Dean Moses