As Pope Francis’s first visit to New York City in late September nears, questions linger about how the city will treat homeless during the pope’s stop in Manhattan.
Pope Francis, celebrated across the globe for his outreach to the needy and poor, is expected to hone in on homelessness during his visit to the United States. New Yorkers close to the issue hope his message strikes a chord with their neighbors.
More than 60 New Yorkers rallied near the site of an alleged homeless encampment where the week before New York City Police cleared out the plaza before a visit from top cop Bill Bratton.
Locals and advocates are crossing their fingers that the city won’t attempt to scrub out homeless New Yorkers during Pope Francis’ visit in late September, even as city officials have already expressed concern over the pope’s gregarious nature towards all individuals — especially those in need.
Protestors held signs with pictures of police arresting homeless New Yorkers, emblazoned with a phone number to call City Hall and a “HandsOffTheHomeless” hashtag.
Brodie Enoch, also of Picture the Homeless, spent some time on the streets himself. Today the 54-year-old, Harlem-born man sits on the local community board, where he said members have talked about the pope’s visit.
“I think they’re going to make sure the pope sees just a couple of homeless folks so he can bless them,” local activist Brodie Enoch told Metro.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and his administration appear to have earned the goodwill of many observers who point to his stated promises to proactively help the some 57,000 New Yorkers reliant on emergency shelters and countless other who stay on the streets.
“We know this mayor and this administration are more committed to addressing the issue in a more humane way than any other administration in my lifetime,” said Marc Greenberg, executive director of the Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness and Housing.
As a result, Greenberg said he expects a gentler touch from NYPD under the de Blasio administration.
“I would suggest that homeless New Yorkers won’t be rounded up or pushed out,” he said.
At the same time, City Hall earned the scrutiny of Harlem residents who on Wednesday accused police of mistreating homeless in the neighborhood, pushing them out of public areas many flock to for refuge.
A City Hall spokeswoman told Metro the city’s focus would be on making sure New Yorkers are “the safest and most cherished experience possible” during the papal visit between Sept. 23 and 25.
“A multi-agency operation will be working to make the streets safe, keep the crowds under control, and provide opportunities for New Yorkers to see and hear the Pope,” said spokeswoman Karen Hinton wrote in a statement.
NYPD did not respond to Metro’s request for information by press time on how they plan to deal with homeless New Yorkers leading up to and during Pope Francis’ visit.
Previously, Commissioner Bratton said he expects to have thousands of officers on hand during the pope’s visit, although security efforts are being overseen by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
“He has made it quite clear in his travels around the world that he wants to interact with the public in a way in which we’re not used to,” Bratton told reporters in mid-August of Pope Francis.
“Bratton doesn’t have a very good history on [homelessness],” said William Burnett, a self-identified Roman Catholic and organizer with Harlem-based nonprofit Picture the Homeless. “But hopefully he has a good grasp of what the Holy See hopes to do during his visit.”
Earlier this month, police officials told reporters they identified more than 80 encampments and cleared out at least 10 with help from agencies tasked with offering services to those willing to receive assistance.
Bratton also said officers were focused on displayed behavior by homeless, whether it be aggressive begging or lying down on either sidewalks or public benches.
Three men slept on the steps of St. Cecila’s Church in East Harlem — a neighborhood with eight emergency shelters — one recent brisk, Friday evening. And that was a light night, said the Rev. Peter Mushi.
As many as 20 men and women have spent a night on the steps of the 128-year-old church, Mushi explained, and there’s little the historically immigrant, working class community has been able to do about it.
“It’s a tug of war on the conscience between keeping the church safe for the community and being compassionate for those who are in need,” Mushi said.
At Wednesday’s rally, Enoch told Metro the politicization and arguments on homelessness as well as barrages of tabloid headlines only help New Yorkers lose sight of the individuals and families in desperate situations.
“By taking the attention of the cure, let’s blame folks — let’s blame the people suffering the most for your problems,” he said.
Across the street from the Harlem plaza, Kadia Beavogui set up a table with a burner and kitchen pot of stew. Every Wednesday and Friday, she and a partner hand out cups of the soup along with religious fliers and booklets.
Beavogui doesn’t live in the neighborhood anymore; she commutes regularly from the Bronx to help out the familiar, homeless faces she’s grown to know over the years. Still, Beavogui said she’s noticed fewer of them lately.
“They’re being chased out,” she said, adding that all are welcome to whatever help they can offer.
“We are all have different beliefs, but God loves us so much he extends our love to others,” Beavogui said.