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Community Activists: Add Homelessness To The Growing List Of Things Spiking In New York City

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Across Manhattan, many New Yorkers are noticing a spike in homelessness.

People are sleeping on the streets and in other cases hotels as part of the city's coronavirus program, CBS2's Andrea Grymes reported Wednesday.

FLASHBACK: Growing Concern Pandemic Could Cause Spike In Homeless Population

Under scaffolding near the Lincoln Tunnel sits a mattress and a desk. A few feet away, a couch and a tarp. Not visible on camera was a man sleeping amidst all of it.

It was a similar scene in Hell's Kitchen on the corner of 55th Street and 10th Avenue.

Meanwhile, in Times Square seemingly homeless people are sprawled out where pedestrians would typically walk and gather.

Added to all of this, dozens of hotels have turned into shelters citywide as part of a city program to safely house the homeless during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Hell's Kitchen community activist Holly-Anne Devlin calls the program a fantastic initiative, but she believes drug dealers have also moved in to take advantage.

"They seem to be either selling drugs within the shelters, outside the shelters, and it's causing a great deal of harassment, crime. The neighborhood is feeling unsafe for a lot of citizens," Devlin said.

She said she recently took pictures of a needle and what appears to be a bag of heroin near a cardboard shanty on 43rd Street and 11th Avenue.

MOREHomeless In New York Discuss Life In COVID-19 World: 'I'm Scared One Moment Something Bad Can Happen'

Mario Messina from the 29th Street Neighborhood Association in Midtown gave Grymes pictures, too, with similar concerns.

"There are people defecating on the streets. There are people selling drugs on the streets. There are people using telephone booths as their office. I mean it's incredible what's going on," Messina said.

Grymes asked to speak on camera with Mayor Bill de Blasio's point person on the homeless, Department of Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks, but only received a written statement.

A spokesperson said at any hotel the DSS uses it does provide additional security, in part to help limit gatherings outside.

CORONAVIRUS: NY Health Dept. | NY Call 1-(888)-364-3065 | NYC Health Dept. | NYC Call 311, Text COVID to 692692 | NJ COVID-19 Info Hub | NJ Call 1-(800)-222-1222 or 211, Text NJCOVID to 898211 | CT Health Dept. | CT Call 211 | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

As for the unsheltered homeless, the spokesperson said outreach teams work daily to offer help, but many with mental illness and drug addiction refuse.

FLASHBACK: Study Reveals Severe Impact Coronavirus Pandemic Has Had On NYC's Homeless Population

"They are human beings. They deserve support. They deserve to be cared for," Messina said.

Devlin said she has been working constructively on potential solutions with the NYPD, the City Council Speaker Corey Johnson's office, and others. She's hopeful the situation will soon become safer for everyone involved.

CBS2 reached out to the NYPD, but didn't immediately hear back. Speaker Johnson said his office is working with restaurants, residents, and shelters to improve conditions.

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