MANHATTAN — The New York Civil Liberties Union filed a notice of claim against the city Monday on behalf of three homeless people who had their possessions destroyed in East Harlem by police and sanitation workers wearing hazmat suits, according to the advocacy group.
Timmy Hall, Floyd Parks and Jesus Morales were sleeping near the entrance to The Urban Assembly School for Global Commerce on Park Avenue and 127th Street early in the morning on Oct. 2 when officers started “shining flashlights in their eyes and banging on the metal fences near the school entryway,” court documents read.
“They said, ‘Take your stuff out,’ and then all of a sudden they said, ‘No, it’s too late,’” Parks said in a video posted by the NYCLU. “The cops said, ‘You want go to jail? You want to go to jail?’ So I just walked away.”
The sanitation workers then took Parks’ possessions — including his medicine, birth certificate, social security card and clothing — and threw it in the back of a garbage truck, according to the NYCLU.
“Do you know how hard it is to lay on the concrete?” said Parks, who became homeless after losing his job. “Do you know how hard it is to sleep? You don’t know who’s around you, who’s just going to throw gasoline on you, burn you up. Because that’s what happens to homeless people.”
Parks and the other homeless people were trespassing on school grounds, according to a spokeswoman for Mayor Bill de Blasio, which she said the city will not “tolerate” for “security and safety reasons.”
“Our number one priority in street homeless outreach is to get individuals the shelter and services they deserve,” spokeswoman Karen Hinton said in a statement. “The incident mentioned in the notices of claim is not a part of the City’s encampments initiative, HOME-STAT, or any homeless outreach work.”
The city, however, will “review our protocols concerning the seizure and disposition of personal property,” Hinton added.
The NYCLU is also asking New Yorkers to show solidarity with homeless people by sharing stories about the importance of their own personal possessions on social media with #TheThingsWeCarry.
"Homelessness is a tragedy, not a crime," NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said in a statement.
"The government has no right to treat homeless people's few personal possessions like garbage. No matter how much pressure the city is under to address homelessness, all people deserved to be treated with basic humanity."