The NYPD’s practice of forcing homeless New Yorkers to “move along” violates a city law that prevents the police from singling out marginalized groups, advocates say.
In a press conference outside One Police Plaza on Wednesday, the group Picture the Homeless decried the NYPD’s so-called “move-along” orders, which are being used to disperse homeless individuals from city streets. Homeless individuals said that after giving these orders, the NYPD has often failed to offer any other alternatives like stable housing or access to mental health care, services that Mayor Bill de Blasio promised would be delivered when he initiated a crackdown on the city’s street population in the summer of 2015.
“We’re here to let the mayor know that illegal ‘move along’ orders are still continuing and that the NYPD is directly violating the Community Safety Act, which labeled the homeless as a protected status,” said Nikita Price, an organizer with Picture the Homeless.
While shelter populations are at record highs in excess of 60,000 people, the city’s street homeless population remains above 2,500, with the majority residing in Manhattan. If homeless New Yorkers refuse to “move along,” as directed by the NYPD, they’re subject to arrest, an act that costs the city an estimated $1,750 per person. For the same amount, the advocates and street homeless argued, the city could easily afford to provide them with safe and stable housing options.
The Community Safety Act, which was passed into law in 2013 (over the objection of then-mayor Mike Bloomberg), enforced a ban on profiling by the NYPD against anyone based on disability or housing status, among a litany of other protected groups. Earlier this year, Picture the Homeless pursued the first ever legal action against the NYPD for violating the Community Safety Act, when it, along with the New York Civil Liberties Union, filed a complaint with the city’s Human Rights Commission.
“Just as we’re able to stand on a sidewalk without being discriminated against, homeless people have the same rights,” said Jordan Wells, a staff attorney at the NYCLU. Once the complaint was filed, the NYPD responded with several legal arguments against it, and it continues to fight what the NYCLU believes to be violations of the Community Safety Act.
Speakers at the press conference described a deteriorating relationship between the street homeless and the NYPD, which was exacerbated after a 2015 early-morning raid in East Harlem where the NYPD destroyed the possessions (including birth certificates and medications) of numerous homeless individuals. According to Price, the NYPD has changed tactics from targeting not only homeless encampments, where several homeless individuals have clustered, but also what he described as “hot spots,” or places where just two or more homeless people are together.
“Not having a home does not mean you deserve less dignity,” said Jarquay Abdullah, a member of Picture the Homeless. “Public spaces are meant for the public.”
Abdullah pointed out that the city owns hundreds of properties that are sitting vacant throughout the five boroughs. These properties, he argued, could be turned into permanent low-income housing to help combat the city’s affordability crisis.
An audit earlier this year by Comptroller Scott Stringer showed that the city had over 1,100 plots of land that could be turned into affordable housing.