NEW YORK -- As Mayor Eric Adams opened a new Safe Haven homeless shelter in the Bronx on Tuesday, he was defending his campaign to tear down the city's nearly 200 homeless encampments.
CBS2's Marcia Kramer has more on why the mayor is making allies of the homeless so upset.
Homeless advocates are furious with the mayor, saying taking down the encampments. However, Adams says he's simply not going to run a city that normalizes people living on the street, and, believe it or not, he's readying a public relations campaign to take his case directly to those still living in the cold.
"I am just so amazed, Marcia, that we believe it's dignified to allow people to live on the streets. That just shocks me," Adams said. "We're walking past people living in carboard boxes in these makeshift inhumane houses. This is just not right."
The mayor said he has visited homeless encampments like one in Brooklyn being taken down on his orders, and is horrified by what he has seen.
"You should see the number of hypodermic needles on the ground, human waste," Adams said.
Despite the outrage from those living in the encampments, the mayor is convinced he's doing the right thing, even though the unsheltered do not agree.
"You're kicking us while we're already down. It's a nightmare," one person told CBS2's Elijah Westbrook. "I've been in numerous shelter systems. There's people bidding. It's like they did in prison."
"Most people don't want to live in city shelters. They say it's not a good situation for them," Kramer told the mayor.
"I understand that. In the city, we cannot stop people from living on the streets, but we cannot tolerate these makeshift, unsafe houses on the side of highways, in trees, in front of schools. It's something that I'm not going to allow to have happen," Adams said.
At 55 years old, Eugene Watts spends most of his nights in or around Penn Station.
"At nighttime, I ain't got no place to go. I go back downstairs and go to sleep until the police wake me up in the morning," he told CBS2's Ali Bauman.
He used to have a roof, and a job at a gym in Midtown, but lost them both when his boss died a few years back.
"His wife sold the place, so I had no job, so I'm on the streets now," Watts said.
Watts has stayed in the city shelters, but he feels safer outside.
"They steal your stuff," he said. "I've been there plenty of times where I left out there with no shoes on, just a pair of socks."
"Is there anything they can do to make them safer that would make you wanna go?" Bauman asked.
"Yes, make sure people's not coming in with weapons and, you know, threatening people and stuff like that. It's supposed to be a place to live, not a place you gotta fear for your life," he said.
The mayor's solution is to make unannounced spot checks at shelters to make sure they're up to snuff and to open more Safe Haven beds like the one opened Tuesday in the Bronx.
"We're not going to abandon homeless people in our city we're going to give them the support, the housing and the healing that they deserve," Adams said.
Advocates say many more Safe Haven beds are needed as a first step to affordable housing.
"There's more than 2,000 people on the streets and subways, so opening up a few dozen beds here and there is not going to meet the need. We need to actually bring on these beds much more quickly and with a scale that's commensurate with the need," said Jacquelyn Simone, policy director for the Coalition for the Homeless.
Adams also said he knows it's difficult to convince people to come in from the cold, so he's going to try a new approach -- a sales campaign directed at the homeless.
"We're going to go out, hit the streets. People are going to joke about it, laugh about it. They're going to do caricatures about it, but were going to go with brochures and show here's what a safe haven bed looks like. This is where you're going to. We're going to show people here's where we're asking you to go," Adams said.
The mayor didn't say how soon the brochure campaign would start and if he has to first build more Safe Haven beds. Advocates say he needs to allocate $1 billion more to address the problem.
"What would you wanna say to the mayor?" Bauman asked Watts.
"He should do better on housing and working with people and helping the people out that's on these streets because that's why there's so many robberies," Watts said. "Because people got nowhere to go, nothing to do. You get tired of living on the street and messed up, you gonna go out and do something stupid."
The mayor says as of this week, his administration has opened 350 beds for the unhoused and will open more in the coming weeks.
The NYPD says 191 encampments have been torn down so far.
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