In Manhattan, Daily Sweeps Target Homeless New Yorkers


Weather: Mostly sunny. High around 80.

Alternate-side parking: In effect until Aug. 15 (Feast of the Assumption).

A key piece of New York City’s economic recovery from the pandemic, many experts and city leaders contend, will be the return of office workers and tourists to Manhattan. As officials seek to secure that recovery, they have increasingly sought to clear the population of homeless people off the borough’s streets.

On some days, city workers clear dozens of encampments. Advocates said that the sweeps are doing harm by upending homeless residents’ lives through aggressive tactics that discourage people from seeking or accepting the city’s help.

“They are trying to make life so miserable on the streets that people will come into shelters, but that is a cruel and ineffective approach,” said Josh Dean, the founder of, a policy group focused on street homelessness.

[Since late May, teams of sanitation workers, police officers and outreach workers have cruised Manhattan daily to tear down encampments.]

The cleanups defy recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that say if private rooms are not available for people sleeping in the streets, then cities should “allow people who are living unsheltered or in encampments to remain where they are.”

Still, the city has increased its number of cleanups during the pandemic. In 2020, from March 1 to Dec. 12, the city performed 1,077 cleanups, compared with 543 during the same period in 2019, according to figures the city released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from the Safety Net Project of the Urban Justice Center.

This year, between January and March 23 — even before the city ramped up the effort in May — there were 873 sweeps, compared with 94 sweeps in the same period in 2019.

Last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a radio interview on HOT 97 that the city needed to “find even better ways” to handle street homelessness. But he also said the city’s “intensive outreach” had helped some 160,000 New Yorkers grappling with homelessness find permanent housing in the last eight years.

“We’re now sending outreach workers back to the same person if it takes 10 times, 20 times, a hundred times to convince someone to come in,” he said.

The city’s Department of Homeless Services said it resorts to cleanups only in the case of “service-resistant individuals” and is committed to helping people find homes.

“The name of the game is compassionate, consistent outreach,” Bill Neidhardt, a spokesman for the mayor, said in a statement. “The end goal is always permanent housing.”

The Times’s Matt Stevens writes:

The 6.5-acre bluestone labyrinth rising out of a quarry in Saugerties, N.Y., is one of the marvels of the Hudson Valley, an artistic tour de force by a self-taught sculptor who spent more than half his life creating it with thousands of rocks, infinite patience and no cement.

Opus 40, whose very name evokes the tenacity of its creator, Harvey Fite, is a monument to the upper bounds of hard work and dedication that took most of 37 years to build.

But now, some say, this soul-soaring triumph has been tarnished by the ordinary: A chain-link fence, nearly 400 feet long, that wraps around one of its edges, spoils its beauty and is the product of a long-smoldering dispute.

“One man built this whole thing — it’s incredible,” said Alvah L. Weeks Jr., the town building inspector. “It’s sad, this fence. Why couldn’t you work something out?”

The participants in the dispute include the Fite family, the nonprofit that operates Opus 40 and the neighbors who surround it. While the spat is full of unsubstantiated theories and unsolicited recriminations, it boils down to a fight about the house Harvey Fite built that adjoins his masterful creation.

The house is still owned by Tad Richards, Fite’s 81-year-old stepson, and his wife, Pat, and is operated by their 20-year-old grandson, who has rented it out online, allowed guests to camp nearby and used it as a site for gatherings.

The neighbors have complained about the events and about the Airbnb guests, who they say make noise until the wee hours of the morning. The small nonprofit organization that runs the site thinks those activities pose a safety hazard and a legal liability.

Enter the fence, in May, which the nonprofit erected to separate Fite’s genius, which they own, from Fite’s house, which they don’t.

It’s Monday — get off the fence.

Dear Diary:

I was riding the N train from Manhattan to Queens on a sunny Saturday afternoon recently when a woman in a brightly printed sundress and large round glasses leaned out our subway car door at the Lexington Avenue stop and yelled, “Alfredo!”

A gray-haired man sitting across from me piped up.

“Fettuccine,” he said.

I laughed. I was the only one among the dozen or so nearby passengers who seemed to have heard and gotten the joke.

A few minutes later, after the train had surfaced from under the East River and pulled into Queensboro Plaza, the man rose to leave the train.

He turned to me as he stepped out the door.

“So long, linguine,” he called out.

— Cynthia Wachtell

Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Read more Metropolitan Diary here.

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