NBK Essentials calls for a moratorium on sweeps following a violent sweep under the BQE on February 26th. The group, an initiative of North Brooklyn Mutual Aid, attended Community Board 1’s meeting on Tuesday, March 2 with supporters. They are collecting signatures on a petition supporting the moratorium addressed to Mayor DeBlasio. The Community Board did not respond to a request for comment on the proposed moratorium.
At the meeting, the group’s coordinator Benjamin Adam heard fear based language, and stresses, “There isn’t a problem with hypodermic needles and drug users. Addressing these kinds of social issues by targeting and criminalizing and punishing people is doing no one any good.” In terms of following protocol, he explains that, “DHS guidelines are often unreasonable for them to actually follow, laws, rules, regulations act as license to do whatever they want. ” Furthermore, “the guidelines associated with these institutions are unreasonable for houseless folks to follow”
Adam found signs warning of another sweep scheduled for Wednesday, March 3, which the group was successfully able to delay. Like other signs warning of cleanups, it directed unhoused folks to shelters in Manhattan, the Bronx or other parts of Brooklyn. Many are reluctant to use these communal spaces during the pandemic.
The direct work of NBK Essentials will continue, said Adam. “Our work is most fundamentally oriented towards mutual aid, we do solidarity work in the interest of survival.” Volunteers can donate or sign up for direct outreach work on their site or get in touch on Instagram. Adam is looking for folks to help with direct street outreach and would love to “hear from people who want to get involved in that really necessary work.”
Both Adam and City Council Candidate Elizabeth Adams, who supports the moratorium, recognize the complexities of homelessness. Adams proposed many ways that the city’s policies need to change. “A lot of people stay in the shelter system or are unhoused for years because we don’t have a rental assistance voucher system that works, the voucher amount isn’t high enough and we don’t have the deeply affordable housing that people deserve.”
She continued, “We need more supportive housing in our city. Both the mayor and governor have committed to supportive housing, but we have not seen the units come online fast enough. Supportive housing offers wraparound support, service for employment, and programs for folks who have experienced trauma and addiction.”
Locally, Adams endorses the new supportive housing project at 90 Sands Street in Dumbo, which recently broke ground and will be “300 units of supportive housing and 200 units of affordable housing. Council members should take this on and should bring in supportive housing for their districts.” She also has introduced legislation to offer more single unit housing through hotels, which FEMA will reimburse. Several thousand people have moved into these units, which have been successful, but she says City Hall has stalled the program.
Adams believes in a housing first approach, as “housing is healthcare and is tied to many of our social service needs.” Reflecting on the sweeps and next steps, Adams called the work of NBK Essentials a bright spot in the pandemic. “It’s overall important that we move away from a response that includes NYPD in these interactions. A police officer showing up can escalate a situation or make someone not feel comfortable if they’re on the street. It’s important we make sure people know their rights, know their options,” she said. “The people who should be doing this work are outreach workers who are known in the neighborhood, who are known by folks, again building up that trust. It’s important that we have more services to offer and that we have real housing options for people. It’s important what services are offered that actually fit their needs. It matters who is doing the outreach so we’re not adding contentious communications. Having compassionate and understanding interactions is really important.”
DSS-DHS (Department of Social Services-Department of Homeless Services) spokesperson Ian Martin described the city’s housing policies as such, “In the past year since January 2020, as part of our ongoing effort to increase service options and pathways off the streets for New Yorkers in need, we’ve opened more than 1,300 specialized beds dedicated to serving and supporting unsheltered individuals, including new Safe Haven beds and stabilization beds we established in commercial hotel locations – and these vital beds are already proving to be an invaluable resource for outreach teams, helping hundreds of individuals who were residing on the streets get back on their feet. Through this 24/7 work, and with new tools, investments, and interventions, outreach teams have helped more than 4,000 individuals come off the streets and remain off under the HOME-STAT program, which is the most comprehensive outreach program in the nation.”