A familiar scene.
Activists Renew Demands for 30,000 Hotel Rooms, an End to NYPD/DHS Street Sweeps & Harassment, and Permanent Housing for Homeless New Yorkers
On Tuesday, the teenager and dropped off groceries and supplies for clients of New Alternatives for LGBT Youth, making our way from Brooklyn, to Times Square, up to 99th street, down to the Lower East Side and out to Rockaway Beach. People all over New York are hungry. Seemingly invisible, many more have no place to stay or shelter from the virus.
On our way up to Times Square, a man was asleep in the street by a corner. People stepped over the man, ignoring him on their way.
All over the city, homeless people have little to nowhere to shelter themselves from COVID.
Homeless people can’t shelter in place. It’s a message, activists have been saying a lot lately.
Walking to City Hall today, the first person I saw was Kate Barnhart, of New Alternatives for LGBT Youth.
“85 deaths in NY shelters is unacceptable...” says Barnhart, wearing a mask on her first time out in weeks, coordinating care, running her organization from her home. “They are directly a result of the negligence of deBlasio. Its essential the homeless population be given a chance to shelter in hotels rather than crowded shelters with higher rates of infection.”
“Stop the sweeps, give homeless people a place to sleep,” says Lynn Lewis, of Picture the Homeless.”
For years now, her organization has been pleading with city council to count the number of housing units exist in New York, challenging the scarcity narrative that drives real estate speculation.
“We need housing not empty luxury buildings for speculation,” reads a sign held by Fran, of the Stop Shopping Choir.
“deBlasio stop lying. Homeless people are dying,” says Donald, of Families for Freedom.
Standing in front of a row of dozens of body bags in front of City Hall, police behind him, Christopher explains, “I’m here for all the voices, all the people who cannot be here, cannot be heard. How many lives will be lost over the cost of a hotel room? We’re lives that matter. We count. We matter. Homeless can’t stay at home.”
There, homeless New Yorkers and advocates set up dozens of symbolic “body bags” and gravestones at City Hall this morning before the Mayor’s press briefing. Holding signs that read “COVID + DHS = DEATH,” and “Mayor de Blasio: there is blood on your hands,” protestors gathered to mourn the lives of 78 New Yorkers who have died (almost certainly an undercount) as a result of the Mayor’s failure to guarantee homeless people the right to safely socially distance in hotel rooms and permanent housing.
In the face of the growing public health crisis, the Mayor has failed to ensure homeless New Yorkers can safely self-isolate before contracting COVID-19. Worse, contrary to CDC public health guidance--Mayor de Blasio has doubled down on punitive policing measures, including “sweeps” of street homeless encampments and closing subway stations and trains during early morning hours, re-routing homeless New Yorkers to congested intake shelters where they are forced to sleep in crowded stairwells and on floors. Meanwhile, the virus continues to spread rapidly, with over 1,000 positive cases, occurring across 179 different NYC shelters.
Today, while mourning the preventable loss of life to date, homeless activists presented solutions to help save lives and prevent further community spread:
- Immediately open 30k of the over 100k vacant hotel rooms in New York City to any homeless person in need of a safe, private space to self-isolate.
- End punitive street “sweeps,” subway diversion and shutdowns, and other policing practices which--contrary to CDC guidance--serve to disperse and displace homeless people rather than help them stabilize and safely self-isolate.
- Prioritize the speedy transition of homeless New Yorkers into permanent housing in thousands of vacant apartment units citywide.
This action was also in memoriam and honor of Nikita Price, Picture the Homeless member since 2006 and organizer for more than a decade. Nikita tragically passed away last week. Until his final days, Nikita was organizing for the safety and survival of homeless people in New York City and against police violence.
"Hotels are the most absolute way to keep our homeless New Yorkers safe; to have the choice to separate ourselves and keep oneself protected is what is needed now!" said Roberto Mangual, leader with the #HomelessCantStayHome campaign and shelter resident at the Clarke Thomas men's shelter on Ward's Island. "Until the United States government produces a fast and precise way to identify who's infected and who's not, separation is key to staying alive."
"Giving hotel rooms to the homeless not only helps prevent the spread of the virus but also gives them a sense of dignity and hope that the Mayor and New York City cares about all its people," said Christophe Meier, who was street homeless until the #HomelessCantStayHome campaign used funds from a GoFundMe to pay for a hotel room to keep him safe.
"Mayor Bill de Blasio, empty hotel rooms can help save lives and can help prevent the spread of this pandemic. Your actions will help to keep the homeless indoors by placing them in empty hotel rooms and off the streets," said Lincoln Cyrus, who was street homeless until the #HomelessCantStayHome campaign used funds from a GoFundMe to pay for a hotel room to keep him safe "By placing homeless people into empty hotel rooms, the struggling hotels would gain some form of revenue. Empty hotel rooms would serve to slow the spread, keep individuals off the streets, subways, and lessen over-crowded shelters."
“Our priority is the homeless people who are vulnerable to be infected, but at the end of the day it’s about helping everyone stay safe during this pandemic. We are all safer when homeless New Yorkers have a single room to self-isolate,” said Charmel Lucas, a member and activist with Picture the Homeless who currently resides in the DHS adult shelter system. “And then the next step needs to be permanent housing so we never end up in this situation again!”