Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Anarchy Row

Photos and reporting by Stacie Joy

Updated 5 p.m. There have been multiple arrests during an hours-long standoff here today between activists and the NYPD and reps from other city services. Gothamist has a story here. We'll update later.

Several unhoused residents live under the sidewalk bridge alongside the long-empty former P.S. 64 on Ninth Street between Avenue B and Avenue C. 

This corridor has a variety of nicknames, including Anarchy Row.
Last Thursday, a sweep team with members of the NYPD, Department of Sanitation and social services reportedly arrived here without notice and “destroyed tents and bedding,” as 1010 WINS documented

The sweep was part of a renewed effort by Mayor Adams “to crack down on street homelessness,” as Gothamist put it. As The New York Times observed in an article from Sunday: “Thirty years after the Tompkins Square riots, the problems around homelessness remain the same.” 

On Monday, reps from the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) returned to Anarchy Row...
... and posted notices of another sweep today. [Updated 11 a.m.: Gothamist is live-tweeting from the scene.]

Ahead of this, EVG contributor Stacie Joy spoke with these residents. 

Here are their stories. 


 Derrick Parker, 67 years old
“Social Security is the issue. My Social Security debit card doesn’t work anymore. I have called several times to resolve the problem and fix my PIN number, but it’s never fixed. Pastor Will [of Trinity Lower East Side Lutheran Parish] has been assisting me. I see the government knocking people off SS. They pick certain cases, and they can’t get their funds, and they become homeless. My wife, Dale, died on August 11 of 2020. She had cirrhosis of the liver from drinking and had a heart attack. I’m a licensed private investigator and bounty hunter. I had a stroke and have diabetes. Everything hit at once. Now I have trouble walking. I hope the Social Security director will look at my case and help me fix it.” 


 Jose Hernandez, 71 years old
“I’ve been here for four months now. I am looking for a one-bedroom apartment for my wife and me. I’m retired now. I was a superintendent and building manager for buildings on the Lower East Side. When I was younger, I worked for the Board of Education on Eldridge Street and Forsyth. A friend of mine was sleeping here on Ninth Street, and he was leaving his tent, so I took it. I get a pension and Social Security. Being homeless is not easy, including with the police department. They are very rude. They want us out of here. My wife is Amalia Jordan; we’re common law. She’s staying at Masaryk Towers.” 


“I was in the 1989 Tompkins Square Park homeless evictions at that tent city. I have only been here, on Ninth Street, for a week. I was on the trains before that. I’ve been homeless for two years. Ten days before they stopped the evictions due to the pandemic, I was evicted. We were in hotels for a while with my teenage son, my husband and me. It all fell apart. Sadly, this isn’t the first time I’ve been homeless. I am selling my paintings. I’m an artist. I tried to rent a place with my stimulus check, but no one would rent to me. They wanted better credit than we have. They didn’t say why, just that we didn’t get the space. The bathroom had a separate key out in the hallway. Mayor Adams says he thinks we live in a pile of needles.” 


George the Third, aka Gee, 38 years old
“I’ve been here one week. I slept wherever it was warmest. I was looking for the warmest spot I could find. Cops would smack a stick down next to your head. Or hit you. I’ve been pepper-sprayed by cops; they threw water on me. I would stay on the trains, in Tompkins, wherever. In Tompkins, I always needed blankets; sometimes they had bugs. What I really need is an ID. I need a photo ID. I lost all my identity. I can’t get a Social Security card without, like, five points of identification. Identity theft is a major thing with the mafia, that and extortion. I need a birth certificate and paperwork. I need a P.O. box so I can get mail. Mail is important. I’ve been a Planet Fitness member for years, never late on my payment. Maybe they would let me get some mail there. I can work out, shower and use the massage chairs.” 



K/d0 said...

the writer should be applauded for this story.

my one comment is the use of the term "unhoused residents". if i understand correctly the term is meant to promote inclusivity - i argue that it sanitizes the daily struggles faced by homeless people.

a large part of my argument admittedly stems from intuition - if you performed a large random sampling asking people to define the term "unhoused residents" ... my instinct is you're probably going to get quite a few blank stares and responses like "tourists?" "renters?" "illegal aliens?"

i use this intuition as an example to illustrate how altering lexicon for inclusivity perhaps doesn't do what its supposed to be doing when the alteration strips the affected group of their very real pain and anger and need for humanitarian care and comfort.

Cosmo said...

Thank you for the interviews, Stacie. And to EVG for publishing their stories. It's disgusting how we treat our homeless population. They are people with individual lives and stories, and it can happen to almost any of us. I've been very disturbed by some recent hatred towards homeless and the opening of new shelter. So many people dismiss the homeless, accusing them of being criminals or drug addicts. Our Mayor has zero empathy and no plan. We need housing, not "sweeps" to take what little is left that these people have. Destroying tents and bedding is some of the cruelest, in humane behavior. We can do better.

Anonymous said...

I saw the social workers talking with the residents there on Monday. They seemed to treat them nicely and respectfully, from the tone of the conversation.
Those people there seem harmless, but you don't know that when you walk that block at night, and many neighborhood residents don't feel comfortable or safe passing there.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post. Our mayor should be ashamed of himself.

Pinch said...

The plights, conditions, and behaviors of those who are homeless run the gamut--and, indeed, it is important to assist such individuals BUT it is ALSO important to address the many and varied impacts on the neighborhood at large (e.g.,safety, hygiene, neighborhood businesses)--these encampments and, similar conditions (see the long-discussed 14th & 1st intersection) must continue to be addressed and the manner in which they are addressed certainly should be discussed with the nuance that doing so entails; however when these encampments are cleared, it often will not look pretty. The Department of Homeless Services' Fiscal 2022 Budget is $2.2 billion, which represents approximately 2 percent of the City’s total Fiscal 2022 Budget of $100.5 billion--this is, for sure, a complicated issue, which includes utilizing these significant funds more efficiently.

Anonymous said...

I've been homeless in NYC. There are resources available. The guy who needs ID needs to connect with the coalition for the homeless. They assist with obtaining ID and a mailing address. They should try to get public assistance - cash benefits. They can assist with obtaining a storage locker and ID. To be honest there is no mention of substance abuse. One guy gets social security and a pension. There is a path to permanent housing. It doesn't happen if you sit in a tent all day. Go to the Bowery Mission and see what residential recovery programs are available. Get a shelter bed. Take some positive action. Apply for food stamps and health insurance. Get a free phone. And we should acknowledge that as a result of prison reform newly released inmates go straight to the shelters. Pretending substance abuse isn't a major factor is naive. But these people need to make use of the resources available. The system has problems but people get permanent housing every day.

Anonymous said...

Also want to point out that what is cruel is allowing people to disintegrate on the sidewalk in a tent. Sweeps are necessary. The discussion should be about improving the shelter system and increasing voucher access. There also needs to be an honest discussion about the rampant substance abuse. Why should the Mayor be ashamed ? There is nothing progressive or compassionate about allowing encampments.

Neighbor said...

Well said on both accounts.

noble neolani said...

Thank you Stacie for humanizing these humans which some people believe are criminals or worst. I believe the only reason homeless are swept away from public sight is to keep the flow of tourism and nightlife from suffering.

Anonymous said...

I can see both sides of this situation, and there are no quick answers, no guaranteed "wins" involved.

On the one hand, if you want "anarchy" then I'd argue these people have achieved that, which should theoretically make them happy.

OTOH, living on the street is a lousy way to go through life - but to get help requires interacting with various people who work for the "government" - AND it requires those who need assistance to be willing to do their part (and not just when they feel like it).

I don't have an answer. I don't pretend to have an answer. BUT it seems to me that everyone involved has some responsibility for why things STAY the way they do.

Anonymous said...
Some action this afternoon

Anonymous said...

I believe that (basic) housing is a fundamental human right that should be guaranteed by our society acting through our government. I would gladly pay additional taxes toward that end. While it saddens me to that people suffer homelessness and hunger, I live on this block and this camp was an inappropriate use of the sidewalk that needed to go.

Anonymous said...

My cousin is homeless/unhoused - it has been tghis way of and on for more than 25 years.

He dropped out of college, started playing guitar on the street, and eventually his roommate kicked him out.

At a couple of points he had housing - studio/SRO type - but lost those too due to non-payment of rent and/or his behavior.
He was in rehab once - and left

His parents and siblings have helped support him to the extent possible. They have begged and begged him to be evaluated but he has refused.

His family is broken-hearted.
But they don't blame the government or expect the government to solve what is unsolvable...

Anonymous said...

The simple fact is we have inefficient and corrupt city and state governments that squander huge government resources that if utilized properly should be sufficient to provide the homeless population with housing and various social services. Florida with a larger population with similar demographics does a much better job with half the budget. Ultimately we the citizens are to blame because we voted for these bums.

Anonymous said...

@7:41AM: Well, *I* didn't vote for these bums: not for Rivera nor Eric Adams, both of whom IMO are pretty much just hot air with a large salary.

Worse, if you look at voter turnout in the most recent local election (or really ANY local election!), MOST PEOPLE DO NOT VOTE.

Call me sanctimonious, but I've voted in every election (from the most local, through to presidential, elections) since I was old enough to vote. I'm now retired and I continue to vote in every election. If people cannot get off their rear ends to vote, or if they just keep voting someone like Rivera in AGAIN, then they have to accept that they are ALSO a big part of this mess, too.

Think of the people around the world who can only wish they could vote, or that their vote would matter. Here, almost everyone can vote, yet people won't bestir themselves to bother. Think about that as you walk past the homeless, and when you hear Rivera's self-serving palaver.

Anonymous said...

I am grateful that Stacie interviewed these people. I'm interested to hear what each one had to say, b/c it's a window into a world that I don't understand well.

What strikes me is what's *missing* from each story: the personal decisions that led to the current circumstances. I know that NYC can conspire to make life a horrible uphill slog, but in every case there's clearly far more to the person's story than could be covered in this article.

You can't force people to make "good" decisions for themselves, that's a given. What remains is: how do you help or provide care for people who can't or won't change their way of going through life?

The biggest one that jumps out at me is, how do you help someone like the 38-year-old guy who says he needs a PO Box to get his mail? No one's stopping him from doing that, but he doesn't seem to genuinely have a plan or priority to do that. What does he spend his time & energy on? That's what I'm left wondering about.

And no, I'm not condemning anyone: NYC is a tough town. I'm just musing & wondering about the many individual actions and decisions that are needed to ever successfully address this complicated situation.

Anonymous said...

Even though the space is needed more for over crowed NYC DOE schools in the same community,
why doesn't city setup the former PS 64 school for social services for these homeless people? How many of these folks are originally from this neighborhood? Priority for assistance should be given to homeless senior citizens and homeless folks that has lived in this community for at least 10 years. Set up space for homeless people to receive mail.

Anonymous said...

In an ideal world, all of these people would be able to afford options in the East Village but now even middle class people are being driven out by landlords jacking up prices to insane levels and bending the rules so they can get apartments out of rent stabilization.

Anonymous said...

There are shelter beds available and there are places to receive mail. These things already exist. One issue is people are generally uninformed about the services available in NYC. There are many.