Homeless Activists Take Over JPMorgan’s Vacant Lot in E. Harlem


Picture the Homeless has commandeered a vacant lot at 115th between Madison and Fifth Avenue. They say the “warehoused” lot is owned by JPMorgan Chase, which they point out is a “recent beneficiary of billions in taxpayer bailout money.” They seem pleased with their encampment so far: “Tent city looks great,” PTH tweets. “Casita, stage, banners, signs, tents, barbeque grills, and people!” The large banner in the back says, “THEY SAY GENTRIFY, WE SAY OCCUPY.” This occupation is open to the public.

“It’s going great!” PTH press rep Tej Nagaraja tells us. “We have 15 or 20 temporary housing units, a beautiful stage and banners. A couple of hundred of people have passed through already. We’re holding it down and trying to get the message out.” He also has musicians for the stage — the Welfare Poets were on as we spoke — and “if community activists want to come up and speak,” they’re welcome to do so.

We also talked to Sophia Bryant, a “disabled nurse who got priced out of her apartment” and PTH spokesperson.

“Mayor Bloomberg had a plan to reduce homelessness,” she says, “and that plan has failed… people have a right to shelter and to housing, but under his watch the homeless situation has increased. Three weeks ago he had a press conference, and he said under his tenure the shelters have become more attractive and that’s why more people are staying in them. More attractive? The shelters are deplorable. ”

She challenges the Mayor and the Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Robert V. Hess to the spend a week in the shelters and see how they feel then.

Among the many remedies Bryant proposes is use of dormant properties for affordable permanent housing — “housing not warehousing” — and says PTH is working with councilmember Tony Avella on an anti-warehousing bill that would help deliver lands to this purpose.

As for today’s event, Bryant hopes to “hold it through the week and the weekend and as many weeks as we can.”