HARLEM — While former Mayor Rudy Giuliani blasts current Mayor Bill de Blasio for letting homeless people sleep on sidewalks, advocates lashed out at him for being too tough on the city's homeless population.
A couple of dozen activists from Picture the Homeless held a rally at 124th Street and Park Avenue to protest what they called the NYPD’s “criminalization of homelessness.”
They accused the police harassing groups of people congregating on 125th Street and Park Avenue by forcing them to move further west.
“Stop and frisk has become stop and evict,” protester Dahu Ala, 60, said.
Officers started policing quality-of-life offenses this summer after a dramatic spike in hospitalizations related to synthetic marijuana. They have raided multiple deli's for selling the drug.
Most of the arrests coming from 125th Street are for drug use, alcohol consumption, public urination and public defecation, police sources said.
De Blasio spokeswoman Ishanee Parikh said there is a multi-agency effort in place to clean up that portion of 125th Street given complaints about synthetic marijuana use and homeless encampments in the area.
"There is an increased police presence," said Parikh. "But this isn't just a homeless sweep, it's a multi-agency effort to clean up the area and get people to services."
Safety has also been an issue in the corridor. In August a man was stabbed to death in front of the McDonald's on 125th Street and Lexington Avenue. Last week a 21-year-old man was stabbed in the back just one block east.
Tim H. used to sleep on 125th Street and Park Avenue. He said most people would behave but people who drank in public or urinated in the sidewalk attracted the police.
“It does happen but we try to stop it,” he said. “We try to police it among ourselves.”
When police caught him sleeping in the sidewalk, they would take him downtown and help place him in a shelter, usually in Ward’s Island. Tim H. left the shelters because he felt unsafe there.
“I’d rather sleep in the street,” he said. “Anything is better than the shelter system.”
Tim H. has been sleeping at the YMCA for about a month. A local nonprofit found him sleeping in the street and helped get him housing, he said.
Homeless advocates march down Lexington Avenue in East Harlem. pic.twitter.com/fbdCTRBrB6— Gustavo Solis (@JournoGoose) September 9, 2015
Advocates say that the homeless population is being unfairly associated with the criminal offenders.
“You can’t confuse homelessness with criminal behavior,” said Nikita Price, who helped organize the rally. “You need to separate that.”
While a lot of the attention was focused on the police, advocates said the solution rests in de Blasio’s housing policy. The mayor needs to live up to his promise of adding affordable housing.
“Every question that you’ve asked and be solved with housing,” said Brodie Enoch, co-chair of the board for Picture the Homeless. “The cops would have no one to move from the street if there was affordable housing. Unless we create affordable housing, homelessness is going to get worst.”