On Wednesday night, the remnants of Hurricane Ida struck New York Metropolis, dropping record-breaking rainfall that shortly overwhelmed the sewer system in elements of town and killed a minimum of 13 New York Metropolis residents, most residing in basement flats.
The Nationwide Climate Service issued its first-ever flash flood emergency warning for town, and Mayor Invoice de Blasio declared a state of emergency, warning New Yorkers in a tweet to remain indoors and off the streets and subways so first responders can get their work completed.
For the roughly 4,000 New Yorkers who sleep on town’s streets and within the subway system every evening, staying inside Wednesday night was simpler mentioned than completed. The torrential rain got here instantly and considerably unexpectedly. Because the subway system shut down, many homeless New Yorkers have been caught within the parts, scrambling to discover a secure, dry spot to trip out the storm.
To be taught what it was prefer to be with no dwelling Wednesday night, Gothamist/WNYC spoke with a number of homeless and unstably housed New Yorkers about the place they sought shelter through the lethal downpour.
Daniel, who’s been homeless since March 2020, spends most evenings sleeping below scaffolding, as a result of he says he doesn’t really feel secure within the metropolis’s shelters.
On Wednesday evening, he made it to a scaffold in Midtown Manhattan and stayed beneath whereas the storm raged round him. He was up all evening to maintain his physique off the moist pavement, dodging areas the place the rain was pouring via the scaffolding above. He says he nonetheless obtained drenched.
As he sat on a Midtown sidewalk on Friday afternoon, his bag was nonetheless damp, and his garments had solely dried out the day earlier than. “When it rains, I’m moist for a minimum of one other 24 hours,” he mentioned. “My physique warmth dries my garments.”
A person who goes by the alias “Ray Ray” additionally discovered shelter below scaffolding Wednesday night. He says he was in a position to keep comparatively dry utilizing milk crates and trash luggage, as a “slight river” of water ran on the bottom under.
“I wrapped a trash bag round my backside waist and my legs, tied it up actual good. At one level I put a bag over my high physique, and put holes for my ankles and my arms so my garments wouldn’t get soaked,” he mentioned.
Like Daniel, he stays below scaffolding most nights, making a mattress out of milk crates to get away from the rats.
“It’s horrible, however the shelter system is so dangerous. They steal from me, they rob me, they attempt to push medication on me,” he mentioned.
On the evening of the storm, a homeless man named Nicholas was finally in a position to make it inside a church on Seventh Avenue in Manhattan. He was not in a position to convey his belongings, nevertheless, and he misplaced an costly toolkit that he says he must get work as an electrician.
“I didn’t know what to do. I used to be actually caught, and I obtained soaked terribly,” he mentioned. “I put my stuff down. After I got here again, it was gone.” He was seated on the sidewalk close to Union Sq. Friday afternoon, attempting to gather donations to purchase a bus ticket and a brand new equipment.
Lewis, a Vietnam Conflict veteran who has been homeless previously, however who’s at the moment staying in his aunt’s basement within the Bronx, says the flood waters got here up via a drain and below an exterior door within the basement, soaking his belongings. He confirmed a video that he took exhibiting two or three inches of water dashing over the basement ground.
“I suppose the sewer system was so overwhelmed, the water had nowhere to go, so every little thing simply backed up,” Lewis mentioned. “The following factor, I rotated and the water was simply dashing in.” He says it took him 5 – 6 hours to filter the water with a brush.
Homeless New Yorkers who usually spend their nights on town’s trains or in subway stations misplaced a lot of these choices through the storm. Many subway stations noticed dramatic flooding, and subway service was shut down in a single day.
In keeping with an MTA spokesperson, at stations with flooding situations that posed a security risk, everybody was requested to go away, together with the homeless. There was no direct collaboration between the MTA and town Division of Homeless Companies (DHS) to attach homeless New Yorkers being faraway from the system through the storm with shelter. DHS didn’t reply to a request for remark by press time.
For Jacqueline Simone, a senior coverage analyst at Coalition for the Homeless, Wednesday’s storm illustrates how inadequate the patchwork system of scaffolding, subways, and shelters is for the individuals who depend on them to take cowl.
“Homeless and unstably housed persons are tragically and predictably essentially the most in danger throughout excessive climate occasions,” she mentioned. “With out the security and safety of their very own houses, they’re uncovered to the weather. The local weather disaster […] underscores the pressing want to supply housing as a basic human proper.”
Benjamin, who’s been homeless since February 2019, tried to flee from the storm by sheltering within the subway system. He says he entered the Bryant Park station when the downpour began, however finally the station began flooding and staff requested him and others to go away.
He made his solution to The Elgin bar on forty eighth Road within the Diamond District and spent the night below the restaurant’s outside eating construction, the place he says he was in a position to keep dry.
Benjamin mentioned he’d moderately sleep exterior than take care of the situations at one of many metropolis’s shelters. “Town can do higher than what it’s doing with shelters,” he mentioned. “It’s heartbreaking that there’s not sufficient useful assets for folks in a metropolis as refined as New York Metropolis.”
Whereas 1000’s of New Yorkers sleep on town’s streets every evening, the overwhelming majority of town’s estimated 50,000 homeless folks sleep in shelters, protecting the true scale of the disaster out of sight.
Some emergency shelters have needed to restrict their capability through the pandemic; the Tribeca campus of The Bowery Mission used to shelter 194 folks every evening. On account of social distancing constraints, the shelter now has 52 beds, all of that are full each night, based on the situation’s neighborhood life supervisor Michael Wearen.
As a result of the extreme climate warning was sudden, staff on the mission weren’t in a position to put the phrase out in regards to the storm to the homeless neighborhood, or put together to absorb further folks. “We share data with our company and shoppers as a lot as attainable, and our homeless neighborhood actually spreads issues via phrase of mouth. However this was only a shock, and really unlucky,” Wearen mentioned.
A person named Steve had simply gotten out of the hospital and was sitting on the sidewalk close to Occasions Sq. Friday afternoon. He says he spent the storm below scaffolding, which didn’t give him a lot safety. He obtained soaked, and all of his belongings have been destroyed. “Every little thing obtained ruined and moist,” he mentioned. “Garments, sleeping bag, paperwork. I misplaced all of it.”