“We think this bill will bring much-needed transparency to how the administration is conducting these sweeps, and what is involved in them,” said Councilmember Sandy Nurse. “And if you think about it, especially when it comes to the cost, every dollar spent on sweeps and removals is one less dollar spent on housing.”

Adi Talwar

New Yorkers experiencing homelessness who were camping out on a Lower Manhattan sidewalk near Tompkins Square Park until the city cleared the site during a “clean up” on Nov. 10, 2021.

New York City would have to report monthly on the number of street homeless New Yorkers removed from public places—and how many of them are offered permanent housing—under new legislation unveiled Thursday.

The bill, sponsored by Brooklyn Councilmembers Sandy Nurse and Shahana Hanif, aims to provide a detailed look at how Mayor Eric Adams is clearing unhoused people from sight, including the cost and characteristics of sweeps, described by administration officials as “cleanups,” at encampments around the city.

Though sweeps predate the Adams administration, the mayor made them a priority early last year, touting a strategy he said would address community complaints about unsightly camps—a separate initiative is focused on the subway system—while connecting street homeless New Yorkers with shelter and services. 

“There’s no freedom or dignity in living in conditions that we are witnessing here,” he said at the time. Interagency teams made 6,085 encampment visits between mid-March 2022 and the end of May, City Hall said earlier this summer, including repeat trips. Across those visits, 181 people accepted shelter placements. 

But Councilmember Nurse is calling for more frequent, detailed reports. 

“We think this bill will bring much-needed transparency to how the administration is conducting these sweeps, and what is involved in them,” she said. “And if you think about it, especially when it comes to the cost, every dollar spent on sweeps and removals is one less dollar spent on housing.” 

The legislation calls for regular reporting by the Department of Social Services, or DSS, as well as the New York City Police Department, Department of Sanitation and Department of Parks and Recreation. 

It includes a broad definition of “removal,” covering any action or directive that results in a person who is perceived to be homeless leaving their location, even temporarily.

By contrast, a 2022 procedure document states that cleanups can occur at encampments, pop-ups or hotspots—defined variously as areas with fixed and unfixed structures and places where street homeless individuals sleep or gather regularly. The document also lays out pre-sweep notice requirements in certain scenarios. 

Reached for comment, a mayoral spokesperson said the administration will review the council bill once it is introduced. 

Under the legislation, the Adams administration would have to share the date, time and council district where each removal occurred in a given month, whether it was directed by police or another city agency, and how many people perceived to be experiencing homelessness were affected. 

Reports would also detail whether the location had been swept previously, the agencies and organizations present, and what initiated the removal—a 311 complaint, for example, or a request by an organization or government office. The city would also have to calculate the cost of each action, based on factors like overtime and equipment.

Karim Walker, an outreach and organizing specialist with the Safety Net Project at the Urban Justice Center, is particularly interested to see the cost data. His organization provided feedback on the bill language. 

“That’s still money that could be going into funding housing vouchers, getting folks into permanent housing,” he said. “I’m hoping by having this bill on record we’ll have a much better, much clearer idea [of] how the city is spending its money.” 

A separate mandatory report would track the outcomes for people caught up in each removal. Monthly, the city would have to share how many people were offered housing vouchers, voucher applications and permanent or supportive housing—the latter of which comes with healthcare and counseling support. 

A recent audit by Comptroller Brad Lander suggested that the city has so far failed to connect street homeless New Yorkers to housing by way of encampment sweeps. 

His office tracked outcomes for people who accepted shelter across more than 2,100 cleanups in 2022, and found that only 90 people stayed in shelter for more than a day. Just three had been placed in permanent housing as of late January.

City Hall defended its practices at the time, saying a housing placement for a street homeless person can require time-intensive trust building and casework—trust advocates say is eroded by the sweeps themselves. 

Under Nurse and Hanif’s legislation, the city would also have to start tracking how many people were arrested per removal, or brought involuntarily to a hospital for a mental health assessment. 

Nurse placed sweeps in a longer history of broken windows policing, which was embraced in the 1990s by then mayor Rudy Guliani. It’s based on the theory that serious crime thrives in areas where, as criminologists George Kelling and James Wilson described it, “disorderly behavior goes unchecked.” 

Sweeps are a “pretty thinly-veiled tactic to continue that ineffective policy and criminalize homeless folks as part of a broader strategy of out-of-sight, out-of-mind,” Nurse said. 

Her bill comes at a high stakes moment. New York City’s homelessness population has exploded under the Adams administration, recently surpassing 100,000 individuals. 

Adi Talwar

Several men sleeping on the street under the Brooklyn Queens Expressway in Clinton Hill on Tuesday morning.

Contributing factors include a lack of low-cost apartments, as well as an influx of tens of thousands of migrants from the U.S.-Mexico border. The street homeless population, though difficult to track, is understood to be smaller. This year’s annual one-night survey turned up about 4,000 people, a likely undercount. 

Both the city and advocates for the homeless have credited New York City’s unique “right to shelter” protections for keeping the street homeless population relatively low. 

However, there is mounting evidence that the right to a shelter bed is no longer guaranteed. 

In May, the Adams administration sought court permission to pause its shelter obligations for single adults, warning that the city had run out of room. And some migrants have lined up for days outside the Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan, a designated intake center, reportedly taking tickets in the hopes of gaining entry. 

Asked about the Roosevelt Hotel on Monday, Adams told reporters that “this city is not going to look like other cities where there are tents up and down every street.” 

But Hanif, who co-chairs the council’s Progressive Caucus, predicted an increase in the street homeless population, making reporting on street sweeps all the more important. 

One migrant encampment under the Brooklyn Queens Expressway was already swept in late July, though some men are still staying in the area. 

“In a moment when we are seeing an erosion of the right-to-shelter mandate, it is very critical that we hold the mayor accountable to what eroding this decree means—that it exacerbates street homelessness,” Hanif told City Limits.

“And if their response to street homelessness is violent sweeps, we absolutely must understand what is happening to people: [from] while a sweep is underway, to post-removal of an encampment.”