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Adams Shuts Down Homeless Encampments


A homeless person sits on the street, gazing away from the camera. The other side of the street is full of people walking to and from, but the side closest to the camera is empty.


DAVID NEWTOWN, BYLINE:

New York City has been cracking down on homelessness in its streets. Some people don’t want to stay in shelters, though. What is the best way to deal with that? To help me think through this question, I’ve asked Tatjana Meschede, Associate Director of the Institute for Economic and Racial Equity at Brandeis University, to join me. Dr. Meschede, thank you for joining me today.


TATJANA MESCHEDE:

My pleasure to be with you.


NEWTOWN:

To start off, in New York City, uh, there is a case where there’s lots of shelters available because we have a Right to Shelter Mandate, which means that any unhoused person who asks for shelter must be provided with it, but they cannot be forced to go to a shelter. So, we do have a couple thousand homeless people who do move around the city to various encampments. Why would some unhoused people not want to go to a shelter and instead sleep out in the elements?


MESCHEDE:

Shelters are very crowded places. Shelters can be dangerous because of the crowds. People are afraid of, you know, being robbed, being violated. So, the way we provide shelter in the United States is just not addressing the needs of people who find themselves homeless because of the way we create these spaces with many, many people in a very close proximity to each other.


NEWTOWN:

Mayor Adams spoke about the facility that opened up in the Bronx and how it has new amenities that unhoused people can benefit from, namely medical care and drug counseling and social workers. It definitely feels like it’s being set up as an end goal, especially since people can not spend the night and still keep their beds the next day which I know is an issue in other shelters, that people would lose their places that they could sleep. How does this not, sort of, just keep people in these safe havens. How do we move people from these to better housing opportunities?


MESCHEDE:

So, the way I understand this new safe haven in the Bronx. It is really an entry point. It is not set up as a place for people to stay. Just, you know, it’s a place for people to be indoors, to be able to have access to food, to showers, to laundry, and to medical care. Depending on, you know, what kind of care they need.


NEWTOWN:

Mayor Adams has started a strict crackdown on encampments. There were 244 that the city was aware of and they’ve cleared out, as of yesterday, 239 of them. The Right to Shelter Mandate that the City has says that people can’t be forced to go to a shelter, but it definitely feels like unhoused people are being funneled towards those shelters or safe havens and off the streets. How does this affect the efforts of advocates?


MESCHEDE:

Any kind of forced move is not working in the favor of, first of all, the people living on the streets and also the people trying to support them as it takes quite a bit of investment and time to build these trusting relationships that are so necessary to help people and move towards the better place for them. Again, people don’t have to be in the streets. People, you know, want to live in housing like everybody else. It’s just the kind of housing we have or we offer them that does not make it enticing. So, safe havens are still public spaces, so they’re not going to work for everybody. Now, people who have untreated mental illness, for example. They’re not going to be opting towards moving potentially into a safe haven—depends on the individual. So, these are not—again, these are a great opportunity, what they offer. But there is so much more needed than just a safe haven. They’re not going to solve the street homelessness.


NEWTOWN:

Dr. Tatjana Meschede, Associate Director of the Institute for Economic and Racial Equity at Brandeis University, thank you.


MESCHEDE:

You’re very welcome. My pleasure.


David Newtown, Columbia Radio News

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