The Jungle 5

A self-constructed living structure by Wayne, a Jungle resident. 

Update: According to several people familiar with the situation, New York State has decided to proceed with the construction of a de-watering facility in Southwest Park in Ithaca. The project, initially slated to start March 30, was "postponed" last week but has now been rescheduled for just a week later, with work now projected to start April 6. 

Mayor Svante Myrick confirmed that the state had informed the City of Ithaca that the project will begin then. 

The facility will force some residents of the Jungle, Ithaca's de facto homeless encampment, to move. As detailed below, Carmen Guidi of affordable supportive housing development Second Wind Cottages has agreed to purchase and construct temporary shelters for the people displaced, which appears to be about six camp sites and 16 people total. He is also installing hand-washing stations in the Jungle in light of the coronavirus outbreak. 

Legal Assistance of Western New York is now investigating to see if there's a legal recourse for the Jungle residents to stop or delay the project. 

The original story, published this morning, is below. 

Original story: A tense few days down at the Jungle, Ithaca’s homeless encampment, ended once again without the start of a long-awaited dredging project as the state canceled the construction citing the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak. 

Mayor Svante Myrick announced the delay on social media last week. Construction was slated to start this week, and would have forced six campsites in the Jungle to move, including about 16 residents. 

“Work was set to begin Monday on a dewatering facility in our southwest encampment,” Myrick tweeted. “This is [a] precursor to long overdue dredging of the flood control channel. New York State has postponed this construction for the immediate future.”

The project has been planned and delayed and postponed for decades. For the last year, once again, it appeared that the dredging project, which is supposed to relieve the problematic flooding issues that often impact that part of Ithaca, was poised to start: In May of last year, residents and advocates were preparing to move campsites, but nothing came to fruition. Then, according to Mayor Svante Myrick, in late fall the City of Ithaca began informing residents once again that they would have to move in preparation for the state’s project in the spring. 

“After a number of delays, construction for the de-watering facility will begin on Monday, March 30,” the city’s announcement said, which also outlined the impacted area of the construction. “All items within the construction site will be considered abandoned as of that date and will be removed. [...] Please ensure that any personal belongings are removed prior to March 30.”

At a meeting last Monday at the Jungle meant to reiterate that certain campsites had to be moved by March 30, some local homeless advocates, like Deb Wilkie of Ithaca Homeless Crisis, became nervous about disbursing the population and making them move during the public health crisis caused by the coronavirus. 

“I am not opposed to the project or any part of it, my issue right now is the timing of it,” Wilkie said. 

The level to which the people would have actually been disbursed is unclear. Myrick said the city would have been able to find enough hotel rooms to house each and every person (if they did want to take advantage of that opportunity, though some prefer to live in the Jungle for any variety of reasons), and that those who wanted to stay in the Jungle, which is city-owned land, would be allowed to and wouldn’t be subject to forced eviction. Carmen Guidi, of Second Wind Villages, said during the week he had agreed to buy a set of temporary shelters to house anyone who would be displaced by the moves. By that time, Guidi had aligned with Wilkie, growing nervous about not only displacing the residents but also about calling for people to help with the move in the middle of a quarantine. It’s a moot point now, though, because of the state’s decision, but Guidi hopes it isn’t re-initiated too soon. 

“These people cannot physically move by themselves,” Guidi said, advocating that the project be delayed at least until the stay-at-home order was lifted in New York State. “Me? I have no problem, I’ll be there day and night moving. But it takes more than one person. At first I said to myself ‘I’ll just get a whole bunch of volunteers and we’ll do it together.’ But talking to other people, they were saying that I’d be putting a lot of people at risk, both volunteers and the people in the Jungle.”

(6) comments

Tom Mars

"Residents"? These are squatters . Letting these people congregate here cant be good hygiene during a pandemic. Do they have hand washing, sanitizer? Wash their hands for 20sec etc? What a mess.

Alexandra Bennett

Homeless people don't go away and just start having accesses to soap and water if you destroy their shelters. They just congregate elsewhere. Destroying their only cover from the elements and displacing them doesn't do anything but make their lives even harder.

Jon Lucente

The dredging is needed to protect hundreds of homes from flooding, not 6 tents of homeless people.

Mary McLaughlin

My understanding is that this project has been in the planning stages for decades. It does not seem to me to be unreasonable to delay until it's safe for volunteers to assist.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) does not recommend breaking up homeless encampments during this crisis.

Homeless people are very often disabled individuals with "invisible" disabilities. These may include psychiatric disabilities, brain/ cognitive disabilities and substance use disorders as well as various physical disabilities. They may be entitled to certain considerations under federal laws that protect individuals with disabilities. They are also protected under the New York State Constitution. Article 17 which mandates that municipalities "care for the needy."

They might benefit from having an attorney offer to represent them at this critical time.

Alicia Plotkin

Brilliant! Apparently this project has been dragging along for years, but now it is so urgent that it must be launched during a pandemic. Homeless people generally have no problem maintaining social distancing from the housed - when was the last time you got within 6' of a homeless person? The residents of the jungle likely have had no exposure to the virus yet. But bring in people to 'help' them to move, either elsewhere in the jungle or into the broader community, and suddenly a group of people with health vulnerabilities can get exposed to covid-19. Has anyone thought about the health implications and, particularly, the likely effect not only on these folks but on hospital capacity? Tell me again why this needs to happen during what the governor has identified as the approach of the apex of the pandemic in New York State?

Mary McLaughlin

You have raised a very important point which has also been raised t by Street Medicine physicians ... that is. there is a risk of volunteers bringing the virus to the homeless population.

Homeless people are often in fragile health. They already die on average 30 years younger than housed people. Why increase that risk??

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