A modest gathering inside City Hall Park Thursday evening aimed at raising awareness to New York City’s ongoing homeless crisis and the desperate need for more affordable housing.
This was organized with a single goal: to get the attention of Mayor Bill de Blasio,who began talking about more affordable housing years ago.
“For the mayor to sign off on initiatives where people are making $100,00 a year a getting studio apartments where they’re only paying like 20-28 percent of their rent and at the same time, there are 70,000 or more people who don’t have a place to live, it’s not equitable,” said Leroy Alexander, who’s formerly homeless.
The city’s daily system update shows just under sixty-thousand homeless adults and children living in the shelter system.
In the summer of 1988, Chris Henry, a homeless man, was riding the city subways when he noticed a flier advertising an annual “sleep out” protest to call attention to homelessness at City Hall Park. Henry decided he had nothing better to do so he headed over to St. Paul’s Chapel, where after enjoying a meal, he and about 400 people marched down Broadway towards City Hall Park.
Started in 1985, the sleep outs were intended to make a statement to then Mayor Ed Koch and City Council members about funding for the homeless. At some point, it started pouring, and the group whittled down to about 100, and then to only a dozen who stayed the night. For Henry, the experience was galvanizing. “That was the night I became an activist,” he said.
It didn’t end the way organizers thought it would. The sleep out was supposed to be for only one night. But, unsatisfied with the response they received in the morning from City Hall, the stalwarts who had slept in the park decided they would extend the camp out. Over the next 200 days, their encampment became a symbol of a growing crisis and what a New York Times story called “an eyesore and a political rotten egg for the Koch administration.”
When Mayor Bill de Blasio was elected mayor in 2013, advocates for the homeless saw him as a leader who could bring meaningful change to New York City’s affordable-housing crisis.
They were so convinced of his commitment to the issue that they stopped their annual “sleep out” at City Hall Park, a demonstration that they held to bring attention to homelessness.
Six years later, those same advocates say much of their faith in Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat, has faded away. On Thursday night, the advocates were set to stage a “sleep out” for first time since Mr. de Blasio took office.
“We felt all together that it was time to do this again, and continue to put pressure on him,” said Giselle Routhier, policy director at the Coalition for the Homeless, a homeless advocacy group in the city.
Ms. Routhier said a main goal of the demonstration is to garner the mayor’s support for House Our Future NY, a campaign formed by over 60 advocacy groups that are pushing for New York City to build 24,000 units of affordable, permanent housing for the homeless by 2026. A number of Democratic politicians, including Councilman Stephen Levin, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Comptroller Scott Stringer, have also signed onto the campaign.