New York’s Eric Adams became the latest mayor to clear out unhoused communities — a cruel reminder of how the liberal establishment fails the neediest.
FROM NEW YORK CITY to Los Angeles, Portland, Oregon, and Washington, D.C., a growing list of major cities across the country are escalating a brutal war on their poorest denizens. No policy makes this clearer than the recent and aggressive sweeps of homeless encampments nationwide without any serious options for safe long-term shelter, let alone permanent housing.
In New York City alone, Mayor Eric Adams in March ordered the clearance of hundreds of homeless encampments; he recently announced that 239 of 244 sites had been removed, primarily in Manhattan. With hardly any notice, dozens and dozens of unhoused people saw their tents, mattresses, and makeshift shelters swept into garbage trucks. The mayor’s claim that these sweeps are about moving individuals into safe shelter was immediately belied by the fact that only five people whose encampments were destroyed have accepted a shelter bed.
In Seattle, after a weekslong standoff between police and activists attempting to protect a homeless encampment, cops cleared the space on March 2. Los Angeles has seen multiple sites where unhoused people erected temporary shelters swept away this year in militarized raids. Dozens of encampments have been cleared in Portland. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, at least 65 U.S. cities are criminalizing or sweeping encampments.
Many of the major cities carrying out sweeps are under Democratic leadership — a grim reminder that necropolitical population management is a bipartisan approach. And they have a lot of targets and victims in their war: Over half a million people across the U.S. experience homelessness on any given night. While a number of politicians from the Democratic Party’s left flank, including New York state Sen. Julia Salazar and New York City Council Member Jennifer Gutiérrez, have criticized the violent displacement of unhoused communities, the liberal establishment continues to pledge allegiance to market forces.
Meanwhile, policies that criminalize poverty — from the war on drugs to the penalization of panhandling — create a steady flow of bodies into the glutted prison-industrial complex, creating a near-inescapable cycle of immiseration and incarceration.
NONE OF THE excuses given for carrying out these cruel policies hold any water. Each and every mayor who has enforced encampment clearance has made claims to public safety, citing upticks in crime and alleged concern for unhoused people themselves.
In New York, Adams’s disdain for the unhoused has been laid bare. “This is the right thing to do because there is no freedom or dignity in living in a cardboard box under an overpass,” he said last week, claiming that it would take time to build trust such that unhoused people would accept shelter beds. Given his already young record, Adams’s remarks about dignity are laughable. He cut $615 million from the city’s homeless services agency — a fifth of its operating budget — while dramatically increasing the policing of homelessness on the subways. He has referred to homelessness as a “cancerous sore.”