Trash and tents: City working on cleaning up homeless encampments in Rochester

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Police were out Tuesday clearing out a lot in northeast Rochester.

A section of Loomis Street has become home to some people, who have pitched tents and moved in their belongings.

The City of Rochester is going to build a fence around the lot on Loomis, which has become overrun with the homeless and drug activity.

The encampment has been a hot topic since Mayor Malik Evans took office in January. He says neighbors are frustrated – and that the people squatting there are living inhumanely. He says outreach has involved “intensive efforts.”

“September, someone [was] stabbed and almost killed at in inch of their life. Sunday, dead body, dead on arrival on Loomis Street,” Evans said.” Would that happen in Brighton? Would it happen in Pittsford? It wouldn’t happen anywhere else, so anyone who has a problem with that, you’re going to tell me that the statistic I just read about this neighborhood, bearing the burden of being one of the most poorest neighborhoods in the state, but yet they should take more of a burden of a place where drugs are sold openly and people shoot up drugs openly and people die openly – and that’s okay? We say no.”

Cleaning up the encampment is only part of the solution. A fence is going to be put up – but the mayor says connecting the people living there with resources is key so they don’t return.

Meanwhile, a few blocks south, a camp has developed at Broadway and Meigs Street. Heidi Stulpin lives nearby. She has for four years – but now, two feet outside her door, she’s met with an area full of tents, trash, and a homeless population.

“As much as I don’t want them there and you know some people would call it a nuisance, where else are they supposed to go? They’re almost safer there as long as the people in the community have the wherewithal to be able to deal with them,” she said.

Outside her door, she says she’s seen violence and drug use.

“What is being done to help these people? They’re not dogs. They’re human beings. They have a right just as much. ‘Cause let me tell you something: that could happen to anybody.”

Stulpin says it all points to one problem: the need for better mental health care.

“Occasionally, you’ll get somebody who is having a severe psychotic break and they get into fights with people who are protective of their belongings or their space or they think something was taken,” Stulpin said. “That’s usually how fights break out and it gets loud and it sounds violent. Maybe it’s not, but it sounds violent, so yeah I’ve had to call the cops a few times.”

It’s an issue News10NBC decided to take to the mayor on the day when city workers were clearing out a homeless camp blocks away on Loomis Street in preparation of fencing it off.

News10NBC’s Briana Collier: “Mayor, you addressed the Loomis Street encampment issue and we obviously know what’s going on and what’s being done there, but we know that’s not the only one and you talked about some of the other areas. I went to one over on Broadway and Meigs today. Is there going to be anything being done about that one – if anything?”

Mayor Malik Evans: “There will be something done about every single encampment in the city. Absolutely. Some of those, we have to work with our state partners. The one you just referenced, for example, is a state one that we will have to work with collaboratively on.”

The city is also working to clean up another encampment on Hudson Avenue. Overall, the goal is providing resources like housing, mental health, and substance abuse treatment so that they don’t return and it becomes a cycle.

Read our coverage of Loomis Street:

Citizen Action of New York and VOCAL-NY released a statement criticizing the city’s efforts:

Everyone deserves a safe place to live. Citizen Action of New York and VOCAL-NY condemn the targeted harassment of unhoused residents of Rochester–including the sweeps of homeless encampments on Loomis Street–by the city government. Together with local advocates, we call upon Mayor Malik Evans and City Council to stop the continued attacks on our unhoused population and work with the community to find sustainable solutions that don’t continue the cycle of harm. 

No one should be harassed and made to feel unsafe in their own space. Unhoused people do not have any form of protection against sudden and violent eviction and the seizure of their property. Forced ‘sweeps’ of encampments threaten their survival and put people at unnecessary risk, without reducing homelessness or addressing the problems that cause it.

The use of Rochester’s police force to harass and criminalize unhoused residents and the people attempting to support them, is unconscionable. This is a misuse of city resources and it creates severe and unnecessary collateral consequences. Unhoused residents are being scapegoated for deeper problems that police are unable to address. 

City shelters are an important lifeline for many people experiencing homelessness, but these shelters are not a suitable place for every unhoused person. Many shelters are filled with violence that puts residents at risk and some have requirements–like abandoning pets–that people cannot comply with. Furthermore, there is a shortage of available beds in the currently available shelters.  

Rochester is the fourth poorest city in the United States and many residents are struggling to make rent. A severe lack of low-cost housing and legal protections for tenants in existing housing causes many people to be homeless or housing insecure. 

The City of Rochester has shown once again that property matters more than people. Citizen Action and VOCAL-NY are united in solidarity with unhoused residents and advocates, as we call upon Mayor Malik Evans and Rochester City Council to put an end to the sweeps and work with the community to find sustainable solutions that don’t continue the cycle of harm. Housing is a human right, and unhoused people have a right to be safe and keep the property they have to shelter themselves.