(Opinion) It’s Long Past Time For Our City to Give the Homeless the Resources and Compassion They Deserve

Left: Kimlau Square a week ago; right: Kimlau Square Sunday, Oct. 8. Photos by Lee Berman.

Left: Kimlau Square a week ago; right: Kimlau Square Sunday, Oct. 8. Photos by Lee Berman.

The following op/ed was written by Lee Berman, a Lower East Side district leader, regarding this past weekend’s shocking murders of four homeless men in Chinatown. The Lo-Down accepts op/ed submissions relevant to the Lower East Side community. Opinion pieces do not reflect the editorial position of The Lo-Down, but only the viewpoints of each individual author. To submit an editorial/letter to the editor, use the following email: info@thelodownny.com

I am outraged at Saturday’s mass murder and am furious that neither the mayor, our local or state elected officials or even our community boards will be called out as being complicit in the outrageous murder of four defenseless people.  
A modern civilized society does not allow its most vulnerable citizens to live on the streets, in its parks, on its subways, under its highways or in its tunnels.  A civilized society does not allow its drug addled or mentally ill to decide that it is ok to urinate and defecate in train cars, bathe in children’s playground sprinklers or eat from garbage cans.
And a civilized society does not allow a revolving door criminal justice system where individuals repeatedly arrested for violent crimes, are allowed to reoffend with no repercussions.
My youngest daughter will be steps away from where the murders took place in just an hour.   I pass by the area daily and saw the homeless encampment on East Broadway every morning. I began my career documenting and reporting on New York City in the late 1980’s.  Much of that coverage included the skyrocketing homeless situation which, at the time, helped define the crime and lawlessness in New York City – from the homeless encampments at Columbus Circle, to Tompkins Square Park, to the “Mole People” who lived in the railroad tunnels under Riverside Park and countless other areas.  As bad as the homeless situation in the city was back then, it was a drop in the bucket compared to what we are currently experiencing under the present administration.

Passing by the blood splattered homicide scene Sunday morning, I recognized the location and description of the elderly homeless victim brutally killed as that of the gentleman I gave food and water to on one of this past summer’s hottest days as he sat in that very spot, minding his own business.

To argue that the root cause of this past weekend’s murder spree is a lack of affordable housing (as some politicians have already done) is disingenuous to the homeless as well as to everyday New Yorkers.  This “homeless attacker” has a long rap sheet with 14 prior arrests, including violent assaults in a homeless shelter and on the subway. He even assaulted his own mother and grandfather. Had he encountered anyone else during his murderous spree, surely they too would have been part of his body count, whether they were homeless or just walking down the street.

Kimlau Square, where three of the four murders occurred, is in the direct line of site and only a few hundred feet from Police Headquarters.  Sunday night, the police prevented the homeless from sleeping in Kimlau Square because it was a crime scene. Where were the police two nights ago, two months ago or two years ago when Kimlau Square, like so many other parks, sidewalks and streets in our city, were taken over by the homeless?  The City has let these people down. How many more must die before the mentally ill, drug and substance abusers and vulnerable others who live on the streets and are unable to care for themselves are finally afforded the treatment and compassion they so deserve.

Lee Berman is a district leader from the Lower East Side, a member of Community Board 3, a founding member of the Grand Street Democrats, former Democratic State Committee Member from the 65th Assembly District (which includes Chinatown) and lifelong Lower East Side resident and former member of the press (whose contribution of photos were part of the Pulitzer Prize winning Newsday coverage of the 1991 Union Square subway crash)