Homeless Rights Advocates, Elected Officials Call on NYPD to Stop Warrant Raids at City Shelters

The Legal Aid Society; Council Members Carlos Menchaca, Stephen Levin, Brad Lander, Mark Levine and Jumaane Williams; Manhattan Deputy Borough President Aldrin Bonilla, Coalition for the Homeless, Brooklyn Defender Services, The Bronx Defenders, Communities United for Police Reform, VOCAL-NY, Picture the Homeless and others called on Mayor de Blasio and the New York City Police Department (NYPD) today at City Hall to immediately stop warrant sweeps at local homeless shelters.

The press conference comes after a recent NYPD raid at a shelter in Washington Heights. According to residents who witnessed the raid, the NYPD and other local law enforcement stormed the Fort Washington shelter – a facility specifically dedicated to treating men with mental health issues - on the morning of Monday, July 17. Law enforcement shouted threats and waved tasers frightening residents before making an arrest.

In early July, several officers with vests marked “warrant squad” raided the same shelter and arrested eight unsuspecting individuals who were there seeking housing, food and essential services.

The vast majority of the arrests that the NYPD seems to prioritize are for offenses that are low-level, non-violent and decades old.

Since January 2017, there have been six other reported shelter warrant sweeps conducted by the NYPD in conjunction with other local law enforcement:

  • 30th Street Men’s Shelter – March, 23, 2017 at 6:00 a.m.
  • Fort Washington Men’s Shelter – Late March but no exact date around 4:00 a.m.
  • 30th Street Men’s Shelter – April 1, 2017 in the early morning
  • Kingsboro Star/Kingsboro MICA – April 6, 2017 at 5:00 a.m.
  • Bedford Atlantic – April 7, 2017 at 5:00 a.m.
  • Fort Washington Men’s Shelter – July 10, 2017 in the early morning

The NYPD has denied that these raids even take place and only admitted to one such occurrence when it was witnessed firsthand by staff from the Coalition for the Homeless.

Warrant sweeps run counter to official City policy, but Mayor de Blasio has allowed the NYPD to carry out raids largely unchecked.

Sweeps discourage homeless New Yorkers from seeking out public programs and services, endangering their lives and consigning them to hidden and public spaces where services are not available.

It also has a profound deterring impact on homeless immigrant families from seeking assistance, where for many, any sight of law enforcement activity raises fear about possible detention and deportation.

The Legal Aid Society called on the Department of Homeless Services to work with defender organizations, District Attorneys and the New York State Office of Court Administration to bring warrant clearing opportunities to shelters, similar to the “Clean Slate” programs currently administered for the general public in most boroughs.

“Similar to the impact ICE raids have at courthouses and New Yorkers trying to access services provided by the courts, these sweeps undermine the basic functions of our homeless shelter system and simply endanger lives because they keep people on the street,” said Tina Luongo (Criminal Chief) and Adriene Holder (Civil Chief) at The Legal Aid Society. “Warrant sweeps are cruel and dehumanize the homeless – many who suffer from mental illness and other trauma. The City needs to follow its own rules and Mayor de Blasio needs to ensure this from his own police department.”

“We need our city shelters to be just that – shelters. That means they have to be safe spaces that provide comfort to people most in need,” said New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer. “Sending the message that sleeping in a safe, clean bed could also result in getting arrested is exactly the wrong way to go about combatting homelessness. This will only serve to force more people onto our streets. It's against our values as New Yorkers — and it flies in the face of basic human decency."

“As a city, we must do all we can to provide for our homeless population and that includes safe shelters,” said Public Advocate Letitia James. “NYPD sweeps of homeless shelters do just the opposite, and deter the city’s most vulnerable from seeking out much needed assistance. The NYPD must end this unjust and discriminatory practice immediately.”

"NYPD warrant sweeps at homeless shelters are an affront to New York City values. This type of activity degrades our community safety and public trust in essential City services. Warrant sweeps discourage homeless people from getting off the streets and are especially threatening to immigrants. Our most vulnerable neighbors should find refuge and safety at City shelters not the risk of arrest," said Council Member Carlos Menchaca, Chair of the Council’s Committee on Immigration.

“Warrant sweeps in facilities sheltering homeless people send exactly the wrong message: If you come to get help, you might become a target. If we want homeless New Yorkers to come in off the streets, our shelters must be seen as safe, welcoming places where real resources are available and not as a fast-track to jail. These sweeps are particularly wrongheaded when we examine the kinds of past offenses homeless New Yorkers are being arrested for: Old warrants for loitering, being in a park at night, jumping a turnstile – exactly the kinds of petty offenses for which the City says it wants to avoid making arrests. The bottom line is that warrant sweeps are not keeping New Yorkers safe from dangerous criminals, but they are making it harder those who are homeless to get back on their feet again,” said Shelly Nortz, Deputy Executive Director for Policy at Coalition for the Homeless.

"The NYPD is lying when they deny warrant sweeps in shelters - I know because I've been picked up on three occasions during their sweeps. At my shelter - Bellvue Men's Shelter - sweeps happened on Thursday mornings. Around 4:00am an officer would kick the bed to wake you up and then put you in handcuffs." said Jeffrey Foster, outreach worker at VOCAL-NY. "They treat people like they're in jail, and it's just not right. Who's going to go into a shelter if they know they'll be targeted by the NYPD?"

"With homelessness at a record high in NYC, it is hard to think of anything more cruel and counter-productive than raiding the very shelters where some of our city's most over-policed and vulnerable communities seek support and refuge," said Mohamed Sheriff of The Bronx Defenders. "There is absolutely no justification for this. We call on Mayor de Blasio to work with the NYPD and put an end to these abusive and unnecessary practices."

“New Yorkers have the right to a safe place to sleep but NYPD warrant sweeps in shelters have a chilling effect on that right. With approximately 1.5 million open warrants in this city, most from summonses that are not for serious matters and issued through overpolicing of poor neighborhoods of color, NYPD must be sensitive to—and not exploit—the plight of those who have fallen hard times,” said Lisa Schreibersdorf, Executive Director of Brooklyn Defender Services.

“The NYPD targeting homeless shelter residents for warrants throughout the four years of the de Blasio administration is counterproductive to public safety, fails to help homeless New Yorkers get housing, and discourages New Yorkers from accessing shelters and other city services,” said Carolyn Martinez-Class of Communities United for Police Reform. “It is disturbing that the NYPD is continuing its history of abusively policing homeless New Yorkers which has in some cases expanded during this administration, despite rhetoric to the contrary.”

“The NYPD’s unprecedented sweeps in homeless shelters targets the most vulnerable, threatens the basic necessity of crucial housing stability and has a chilling effect on those seeking a critical life essential,” said Vichal Kumar, the Managing Attorney of our Civil Defense Practice the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem.