New York: City officials have cleared out homeless pavement dwellers from the area around the United Nations headquarters in preparation for the high-level General Assembly session starting Monday, keeping them out of view of the visiting leaders and raising the security level. The dozens of homeless people, who live under tarps, cardboard boxes, umbrellas and construction sheds for most of the year along First Avenue, where the UN is located, and Second Avenue and the side streets in the area, were out by Sunday evening. Clearing them away has been an annual exercise carried out by officials of a city facing a chronic housing crisis compounded by mental health issues that overwhelm the city’s social services. Many streets along hotels where about 150 presidents and prime ministers will be staying during the high-level week will also be cordoned off for security reasons but also spare the VVIPs a sight of the homeless problem in the world’s financial and media capital. While these removals are linked to the UN event, New York City also periodically demolishes settlements set up by the city’s poor. Having the massive task of protecting the host of world leaders, New York Police Department brings an area of about 40 hectare that includes the UN under a virtual lockdown every year in September during the high-level meeting. During that time those going to the UN will pass a gauntlet of several checkposts manned by UN security, police and federal agents sporting an alphabet soup of agency insignias, before reaching their destination. Residents of and workers in buildings in these areas will also have to go through cumbersome security. Overhead, police helicopters will keep watch, and police and Coast Guard boats will watch the back of the UN from the East river. The riverine precaution was introduced after a bazooka was fired at the UN by anti-communist Cubans from the other bank of the river while Che Guevera, a Fidel Castro lieutenant, was speaking at the General Assembly in 1964. It failed to hit the building. While the current sweep of the homeless has been carried out around the UN for security and cosmetic reasons, the city also periodically demolishes encampments set up by the poor. Although the city is supposed to offer those displaced with proper housing, City Comptroller Brad Landler carried out an audit that showed only three of those displaced received the promised hearing. “So, 99.9 per cent of the folks that were forcibly removed in those sweeps are still homeless,” he told the National Public Radio network, a broadcaster that receives federal funding, in June. According to reports, in 2022 more than 1,500 encampments, each containing several housing units, were demolished with police deployment. The settlements — referred to euphemistically as encampments — are huts and tents set up in public or other vacant land or under bridges or overpasses by the poor.
Photo Credit : IANS