East Village rally protests destruction of houseless communities

New York residents protested the citywide sweeps and demanded that Mayor Eric Adams provide community-controlled housing during a demonstration in Tompkins Square Park on April 8.

Gabriel Hawthorne, Deputy News Editor

A crowd of people are gathered at a park listening to a protester speaking into a megaphone.
Hundreds gathered at Tompkins Square Park for a rally organized by Brooklyn Eviction Defense and the Rent Refusers Network. (Staff Photo by Manasa Gudavalli)

More than 100 people stood in solidarity with their unhoused neighbors on Friday, April 8, to protest the sweep of encampments throughout New York City. The Tompkins Square Park demonstration was organized by Brooklyn Eviction Defense, a coalition of tenants supporting New York residents facing housing insecurity, and Rent Refusers Network, a group aiming to abolish rent and evictions. 

The protesters demanded that Mayor Eric Adams end the destruction of houseless communities and provide community-controlled housing for all city residents. In late March, Adams promised to remove all homeless encampments from city streets within two weeks. His administration said that police and sanitation workers have already destroyed 239 encampments

“As working class tenants, we’re all a paycheck or two away from houselessness,” Nicolás Equis, a BED member who helped organize the rally, told WSN. “We’re all medical debt away from houselessness, we’re all one trip to prison away from houselessness, so we have to stand in solidarity with folks.”

Adams said the city was planning to add 500 beds to specialized shelters with fewer restrictions and more services. He recently held a ribbon-cutting ceremony at a new homeless shelter in the Bronx with 80 beds, a health clinic and substance-abuse treatment services.

From Tompkins Square Park, the protesters marched to the intersection of Avenue B and East Ninth Street, where the New York City Police Department had executed a sweep on April 6. Police officers arrested seven people for disorderly conduct and obstruction of government administration after forcibly removing houseless individuals from their tents. Olive Bob, a neighborhood resident who attended the rally, criticized the administration’s sweeps of houseless individuals from the streets. 

“It was a disgusting act of violence by the police to arrest people who are just trying to stay in their tents and they’re moving them for no reason,” Bob said. “It’s just so that the rich people don’t have to see the poverty that their wealth is perpetrating.”

Demonstrators hung banners reading “shelters are abusive + violent” on the side of the building where the encampment was located. A few protesters shared their experiences living on park benches and the streets, as well as the abuse they continue to face in shelters. 

A closeup of a person yelling into a megaphone holding up a sign that states "Shelters? Nope! Safe Havens? Not Quiet? Apartments? That's The One!" in red and blue ink. A crowd of protesters surround the person.
Sinthia Vee. (Staff Photo by Manasa Gudavalli)

Sinthia Vee, who spoke at the rally about her experience of houselessness, has lived in several shelters in New York City and slept in subway stations. While at a shelter, she once noticed rodents in the sleeping areas that died and were not removed by staff.

Vee said that permanent housing programs, such as Breaking Ground, are not an adequate response to homelessness. She added that she can easily be evicted from the homes provided by the program. 

“Some things about Breaking Ground are a little weird — it’s a private charity,” she said. “The city, the government that we pay taxes to, is the appropriate avenue for this. Not these private corporations.”

Protesters headed toward Washington Square Park chanting their demands and calling for Adams to end the destruction of encampments. They walked in the middle of the street, followed by cyclists blocking traffic, as they chanted, “No housing. No peace. End the sweeps and fuck the police.”

A close-up shot of a person wearing a blue ski mask speaking into a megaphone to a crowd of protesters.
Josephine Fantasia Perez Rivera Walker. (Staff Photo by Manasa Gudavalli)

Josephine Fantasia Perez Rivera Walker shared her experience as a transgender woman who has faced discrimination and harassment while living in shelters and on the streets. Walker, an activist for LGBTQ+ rights and ending homelessness, fights for transgender women to have the right to stay in women’s shelters. 

Another BED member, Holden — who withheld their last name — said they helped organize the rally to advocate for community-controlled housing, in which residents make collective decisions about how the building operates. They said their landlord has not been properly maintaining their building and sent the superintendent to their apartment without notice.

“Last year, we had a pool of human sewage in our courtyard for six months during the hot summer,” Holden said. “It’s a beautiful building and a beautiful community, but fucked-up conditions.”

Contact Gabriel Hawthorne at [email protected].