NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The city’s massive homeless problem was unintentionally highlighted on Thursday, after some were moved to provide a more pleasing backdrop for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s press conference.
When the mayor arrived at Verdi Park at Amsterdam Avenue and 72nd Street on the Upper West Side — a well-known hangout for the homeless — it was pristine.
The trash that had piled up hours earlier had been swept up and a number of people — several of whom were homeless — had been asked to move out of Hizzoner’s camera angles.
That included Daquandra McCants, a Verdi Park regular.
“I just wanted to rest my bags, they said I can’t put my bags down,” she said, “Cause sanitation would take them.”
She said it’s never happened to her before, but she wasn’t the only one. A man who had been sitting on a bench before the mayor’s staffers arrived ended up wandering aimlessly around and a woman who is actually a lawyer, was also asked to move.
The lawyer conceded that her walker filled with bags, clothes, and paper might have caused her to be mistaken for the homeless.
“That can happen, a lawyer that looks homeless, that can happen,” Clara Hogenauer said.
Some neighborhood residents also got the heave-ho — they told CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer they were made to leave ‘because they were preparing.’
Neighborhood residents talked about all the homeless in the park before the mayor arrived.
“They were everywhere and then they came and got them out of the way and in an hour or two they’ll all be back. You can smell the urine, can you smell the urine right now?” Gerard Urciouoli said.
Ray Constantini called it ‘disgraceful.’
“I think the people should have stayed there so people would get a better idea about what has been going on with the homeless people, maybe start to think about them more,” he said.
CBS2’s Kramer demanded answers from the Parks Department officials who were seen moving McCants.
“Her stuff was on the floor, we just asked her to pick it up,” Captain Domingo Sanchez said.
Kramer also put the question to the mayor.
“I’m wondering how you feel personally about the idea that homeless people were moved to provide better optics for your press conference, and if homeless people could sit on these benches before, why they can’t sit on them now?”
“Marcia, again I don’t accept the premise of the question, respectfully, and I don’t think this a particularly important question,” he replied. “I don’t know what happened this morning, it should be treated the same way every day.”
This is a well-known location to the Department of Homeless Services and the NYPD. They regularly address the situation, it’s an every day reality,” the mayor added. “I wasn’t here this morning, but we talk about this location when we talk about addressing street homelessness.”
Police officials said that outdoor locations for mayoral press conferences are routinely tidied up.
Several neighborhood residents bemoaned the fact that more isn’t being done to find apartments for the homeless in Verdi Park.