“Always on the lookout”: how the homeless experience violence in New York

New York (AFP) – Sekou Salaam knows all too well the dangers of New York’s streets: Homeless for six months, he was beaten with iron bars and stabbed multiple times in a crime-ridden metropolis.

“It’s for real here!” You can be hurt, killed,” protests a 55-year-old man who was met by AFP at the home of the Bowery Mission Association, which offers food to the homeless in southern Manhattan.

In mid-March, New York City and the federal capital of Washington shook for days until authorities arrested and charged with murder a man accused of killing two homeless people and injuring three others by shooting them while they slept on the streets of both cities. .

Police, law enforcement agencies and social associations in major American metropolitan areas have noted that crime and delinquency against the homeless is on the rise across the board, including the mental health effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, drug use and firearms trafficking.

But politicians have also been accused of stigmatizing the homeless as a factor in crime in the United States.

Hunt for the homeless

For example, New York City Mayor Eric Adams, a former African-American Democratic police officer who is classified as a center-right, undertook in February to expel the countless homeless people who remained there from the gigantic subway network. In particular, after the murder in January of an Asian American, pushed onto the rails by a man dragging along the docks and suffering from mental disorders.

There will be 50,000 homeless people in New York.

Unheard of since the crisis of the 1930s, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless, in a city marked by deep disparity among its nine million souls scattered across five boroughs (Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island).

And the March killer from New York and Washington, 30-year-old Gerald Brevard III, caused panic among the homeless in New York.

“I was very scared, I told myself + be careful where I land +,” admits Mr Salaam, who sleeps at night in huts set up on the sidewalks of bars and restaurants during the pandemic.

But the danger remains.

“On Guard”

Arnie Medero, 39, including five years on the street, takes his “precautions” by never spending two nights in a row in the same place and breaking glass on the sidewalk to hear a possible intruder approach.

“I’m always on guard, always on my guard,” he told AFP.

The number of homeless people killed has tripled in three years, from seven homicides in 2018 to 22 in 2021, according to New York City.

In October 2019, a quadruple homicide resonated in Manhattan when a homeless man killed four fellow sufferers by bludgeoning them to death with a metal pipe.

An uptick in violence in the context of growing instability in New York and American cities over two years: The New York City Police Department (NYPD) recorded a total of 488 homicides in its city in 2021, a small increase after the 2020 surge (468 vs. 319 in 2019).

“Violence on the Rise”

As for the homeless, there are no nationwide statistics, but the National Coalition for the Homeless believes that “the number is on the rise and the violence is definitely on the rise.”

Actually, Messrs. Salaam and Medero consider the street, as well as the hostels, increasingly dangerous due to attacks from other homeless people as well as ordinary passers-by.

Of the estimated 50,000 homeless people in New York City, 48,500 stayed overnight in shelters in January, up 15% from January 2012.

But these accommodation centers often rhyme with “lack of privacy, fights and arguments,” Jowada Senhouse, a 56-year-old woman who has been moving from house to house for five years, told AFP.

For the associations, one of the solutions would be to combat the shortage of housing and poor housing in New York, one of the scourges of the metropolis.


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