Mayor Eric Adams shared details Wednesday on his plan to address homelessness in New York City.
The city's plan is geared towards removing encampments from city streets and highway underpasses and get homeless people into shelters and more sustainable, more humane housing.
While critics argue that the efforts to break down the encampments will only push city homeless to new locations — further from services designed to assist them — Adams says he cannot turn a blind eye to New Yorkers living in "inhumane conditions" on the streets.
"As a mayor of all of us, including my homeless brothers and sisters, I am not leaving any New Yorkers behind. We're moving together and that is the goal of what we must accomplish," Adams said during a press conference detailing the city's plans. "I'm not abandoning anyone. I am not believing that dignity is living in a cardboard box without a shower, without a toilet...in terrible living conditions... This city is now engaged in a multi-agency mission with compassion and caring, taking our time, not rushing through this, but being compassionate to people who are experiencing terrible circumstances."
To homeless advocates who are criticizing him, Adams invited them to assist in the city's outreach.
"We are in this together," he said. "This is not a point where folks are going to look at what I am doing wrong. It is already a mess. We are trying to do the best."
New York City's plan mirrors similar overhauls in other big U.S. cities. He said Wednesday morning that city employees have cleared out at least 239 encampments. Crews are going back to those locations daily to make sure they stay clear.
People living in the encampments have been offered services including information on "safe haven sites" with beds and showers that they can use. Adams hopes stepped up outreach with help build trust among homeless communities.
Although some individuals may still choose to live on the streets despite being presented other options, New York will do what it can within the law to discourage encampments.
Adams' effort to remove encampments from city streets and parks dovetails with his initiative to get homeless people out of the subway system, which has been plagued by violence this year.
NYC's most recent estimates from January 2021 show that the city had about 1,100 people living in parks and on the streets. Many advocates believe the real number is much higher.
There are roughly 50,000 homeless people in the city — most of whom stay in shelters.
The mayor showed a photo of one dismantled encampment site where city workers found more than 500 hypodermic needles.
"Look at these conditions that a fellow New Yorker was living in," he said. "And I am supposed to allow this to stay? I'm supposed to act like I don't see this? This is dignity?"
NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell added that his department is "focused on improving the quality of life of all of the people we serve, especially our city's most vulnerable population."
Asked whether people are being arrested for building encampments, the mayor said arrests in those situations are rare; the city is coming from "a place of compassion."
No families or children have been found at encampment sites, according to the city.