Local activist arrested while protecting homeless encampments in Ridgewood

Homeless encampments on Wyckoff and Myrtle Avenues were cleared by the Department of Sanitation and NYPD officers Saturday, April 9. (Photo by the Ridgewood Tenants Union)

A local activist was arrested and faces charges of disorderly conduct and obstruction of governmental administration after attempting to salvage a homeless man’s personal items from a shopping cart being discarded by Department of Sanitation workers during an NYPD sweep of homeless encampments at the corner of Myrtle Avenue and Wyckoff Avenue in Ridgewood last week, according to authorities.

Activist Raquel Namuche told QNS she was arrested Saturday morning, April 9, while attempting to protect her homeless neighbors. Namuche, 38, leads the Ridegwood Tenants Union (RTU), an organization that builds tenant power and protects homeless neighbors in Ridgewood, Maspeth, Glendale and Middle Village.

According to police, the Department of Sanitation (DSNY) and NYPD officers were at the location to remove “illegal structures” from a public sidewalk. NYPD reported that Namuche refused multiple warnings to clear the area and physically interfered, preventing individuals from clearing the encampments. 

Mayor Eric Adams started the strong push to clean up homeless encampments throughout the city in March. Since then, over 200 sites have been cleaned. As part of this new policy, the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) surveys an area and is supposed to post a notice at least 24 hours in advance of the cleanup before engaging with clients on site.

“They weren’t aware this was happening. The notice was posted only a night before and a half a block away,” Namuche said. “All they wanted was our help getting into safe shelters, and that’s what we were doing. Getting arrested for trying to protect the property of a homeless individual was not something we were expecting.”

Namuche was also charged with “menacing” and “harassment.”

“These homeless sweeps are unnecessary and what the city actually needs is to provide housing for homeless individuals,” Namuche said. “The sweeps are not working and what we need is safe and stable housing.”

According to RTU, a homeless man at the sweep, Jo Jo, cried while DSNY took his belongings. 

“They took all my stuff and threw it away,” Jo Jo said. “Now I don’t have nothing at all to live on — no clothes, no socks. They took everything. It’s not fair to us. It’s fucked up.”

Namuche mentioned that instead of transitional shelters or a Safe Haven bed, RTU wants to see the empty apartments in the city used for permanent housing for homeless individuals. According to Adams, there are over 2,000 empty apartments in the city. 

“If the city is serious in ending homelessness, the mayor needs to open up every apartment that is currently sitting empty and give everybody keys and the services they need now,” Namuche said. 

The city has promised 500 beds to New Yorkers in need as they attempt to rid city streets of the encampments. Recently, the city made 350 beds available with the opening of the Morris Avenue Safe Haven site in the Bronx. Since the start of the mayor’s homeless sweep initiative in mid March, over 200 sites have been identified, and 239 have been cleaned. About 300 people have accepted the city’s outreach efforts.

According to Deputy Mayor Anne Williams-Isom, after DSNY and NYPD engage at the encampment, workers are supposed to connect homeless individuals with resources, a nearby shelter or a Safe Haven bed. 

“We’ll arrange transport and shelter and a bed for them right away,” Williams-Isom said. “For every person in these encampments, and for every person that we encounter, we are doing this with dignity and respect. For me, today is not just about cleaning areas. It’s about connecting people to the supportive services that can categorically change their lives and reminding them that there is a place for you.”

Namuche, who is still in contact with the homeless individuals who resided on the corner of Myrtle Avenue and Wyckoff Avenue, said they were all placed in shelters throughout the city, with some staying in Safe Haven beds in the Bronx.