LOWER MANHATTAN — Homeless advocates are calling for a stop to what they say is the illegal abuse and discrimination of homeless New Yorkers at the hands of the police.
The New York Civil Liberties Union, on behalf of homeless advocacy group Picture the Homeless, filed a complaint Thursday with the New York City Commission on Human Rights, urging an investigation of what they call the NYPD's "move along" practice — forcing homeless people on streets, sidewalks and other public spaces to leave, even though they haven't violated any laws.
"Homelessness is a tragedy not a crime, and homeless New Yorkers need housing and social services not police intimidation," said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Liberman at a press conference at Foley Square near police headquarters Thursday. "Targeting homeless people for standing on a public street won't solve any problems and sends the wrong message about how we should treat vulnerable New Yorkers."
The complaint focuses specifically on the "move along" practice in East Harlem. Advocates say that the NYPD "launched a concerted effort" in that community to push out homeless people idling in public spaces, but the complaint is meant to help the homeless across the city.
The NYCLU says the NYPD often tells homeless people that they will be arrested, taken to a psychiatric hospital or that their belongings will be destroyed if they don't move.
Jazmin Berges, a formerly homeless woman at the rally Thursday, said that when she lived "out on the streets, police treated me like an animal."
"It's not illegal to stand or sit in a park, this is discrimination against the homeless," she added.
Advocates said the complaint with the Human Rights Commission is the first action taken under the Community Safety Act — legislation passed in 2013 that expanded the categories of people explicitly protected from discrimination, including one's housing status.
The NYCLU said they could have sued the NYPD in civil court for what they see as the violation of Community Safety Act, but they didn't want to be "excessively aggressive" said senior staff attorney Alexis Kerton. "We want to work together with the NYPD."
Filing a complaint with the Human Rights Commission would hopefully lead to an investigation and recommendations the NYPD could follow to stop the "move along" policy.
In an emailed statement, the NYPD said they had yet to see the complaint "but will review it when it is received," adding, "The NYPD's outreach services and interactions involving the homeless are carried out in a lawful and appropriate manner."