On the night of November 24, less than a week after Mayor Giuliani announced his plan to arrest homeless people sleeping in public places, Gerald Cazes bedded down on a bench, thinking about little other than keeping warm. It was about 30 degrees and he and a few buddies were in Sara Roosevelt Park on Houston and Chrystie streets, buried under as many blankets as they could find.
It wasn’t the cold that woke them. Cazes says the police roused him and the other homeless men in the park around 2 a.m., asking everyone for identification. What the police didn’t ask, according to Cazes, was whether the men were interested in going to shelters or receiving any other services, a question the Giuliani administration says is part of its new policy. “If they had, I might have gone,” says Cazes, “depending on which shelter.” The police department did not return repeated phone calls for comment.
Instead, says Cazes, the group was herded into a police van, which took them to the Ninth Precinct, where they were arrested for trespassing and locked up with other homeless people. At about 5:30 a.m., the group, which Cazes estimates at this point to have been about two dozen men, was moved to a holding cell in the courthouse and assigned a Legal Aid attorney. At around 11:30 in the morning, Cazes went before the judge.
“He said this was a waste of his time and that we should all just get out of there,” says Cazes. Upon leaving the courthouse, the 37-year-old, who characterizes himself as a severe alcoholic, was given a token, which is routine in the release of indigent detainees. “I used it to ride back to the area I stay in around Houston Street.”
But his usual crew was nowhere to be found. “I haven’t really seen anybody because they’re so scattered out now,” says Cazes, who has heard that one of the men arrested with him has been riding the trains. At press time, Cazes is hoping to spend the night in a mission. “Everybody’s slowly but surely disappearing, finding more secluded areas to sleep.”