City agencies clear out homeless camp under BQE

As part of the mayor’s clampdown on homeless encampments, one under the BQE was recently cleared

First, it was the subway. Now, it’s the encampments.

A homeless encampment under the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in Williamsburg was cleared out on Monday March 29 as part of the mayor’s new enforcement policy. Mayor Adams previously told The New York Times on March 25 that he was looking to rid encampments over a two-week period.

A 2021 report from the city found that there were more than 2,000 homeless people in the city but advocates have said that the number is undercounted and doesn’t reveal the full complexities of homelessness in New York. Advocates have also heavily criticized the mayor’s recent subway safety plan and his new encampment policy and lacks the investments in housing and resources to seriously tackle the issue.

According to a January report from the Department of Homeless Services, there are currently 1,208 stabilization beds and 687 stabilization beds throughout the city.

“If the Mayor is serious about helping homeless people, he needs to open thousands of New Safe Haven and stabilization rooms and offer them to those in need, not take away what little protection they have from the elements and other dangers on the street,” Jacquelyn Simone, policy director for the Coalition for the Homeless, said via a statement, regarding the encampment policy announcement.

Homeless outreach teams, the Department of Sanitation, and NYPD officials showed up to the north Brooklyn encampment in 20-degree weather, telling homeless individuals’ to pack up their stuff or risk it being thrown away. Signage was posted on March 25 that the Meeker Avenue area would be cleared out on Monday.

Benjamin Adam, an organizer with North Brooklyn Essentials—a wing of North Brooklyn Mutual Aid that specifically tries to provide harm reduction and goods for homeless people—said that up until the recent announcement his group and the Department of Sanitation had a cooperative relationship. While sweeps are nothing new, Adam says he has been able to have a lot of “positive negotiations” in the past that would prevent mass displacement and damage as opposed to what has happened since the mayor’s announced crackdown.

“It just feels like with the weekend there’s an escalation in terms of what was happening and why it was kind of an all hands on deck this morning,” Thomas Moore, a volunteer with North Brooklyn Essentials, said. Around two dozen other volunteers and community members showed up to help the homeless with the sweep and document the cities’ actions.

A week prior to the latest raid, two long-standing encampments under the BQE were destroyed without notice. Adam said that one of the encampments was over a year old hosting multi-generations of Spanish-speaking day laborers and that the other encampment used a bunch of found materials in order to make a handwashing station and different sleeping areas.

“What’s inhumane is destroying people’s homes,” Adam said, referring to Mayor Adams’s statement that the living conditions on encampments are inhumane. “And if there is any inhumanity in the conditions in which homeless folks live, it is a result of the inaccessibility and dangerousness of the shelter system itself, that forces them to live there. So calling someone’s home, and the condition that they live in inhumane is an absurd idea, because, in fact, these folks would much rather like most people would have healthy environments to eat in and have safe and warm homes. And they’re here because they have nowhere else to go.”

Mike Rodriguez has been homeless for around two years but has never been in a shelter because it would mean he would have to separate from his partner Parker Wolf. He’s not sure where he going to go next since he can no longer pitch his green tent under the Brooklyn Queens Expressway.

“So everybody thinks of us as a danger. But we’re in danger out here,” Rodriguez said, before describing different times he’s been harassed and one time when someone tried sexual assault him and his partner. “It’s not our choice to be out here.Homeless people are just trying to live. Nobody understands how were just as good as the next person.”

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