City Moves in to Clean Up After Homeless Hoarder Takes Over NYC Block

Police and sanitation crews began clearing out a homeless woman's caravan of carts lined up along a midtown block in Manhattan on Wednesday after years of complaints from neighbors. 

City officials had been trying to figure out how to deal with the woman, Sonia Gonzalez, and her belongings piled up along a stretch of 10th Avenue on Manhattan's West Side. 

The pile Wednesday included 20 grocery carts, 14 laundry carts, eight suitcases, two large crates and one dolly, all filled with recyclables and miscellaneous items, including an air conditioner. 

A City Hall spokeswoman said homeless outreach teams and police tried to approach Gonzalez to convince her to take shelter and allow police to go through the items on the sidewalk with her to voucher any possession of value. 

But NBC 4 New York cameras on the scene showed her yelling and shouting at one officer who said she couldn't take a brimming cart with her. 

"I need this!" she shouted. "I need to take this." 

Ultimately, sanitation crews dumped much of the pile. The woman walked away with a broken laundry cart, dragging it along the sidewalk as she shouted at the crowd of police, reporters and onlookers that had gathered.  

Residents say Gonzalez is known in the neighborhood. 

"She terrorizes my wife every morning when she walks down the street, she screams at everybody," said Tom Cayler, who's lived in the area for 35 years. "You have this kind of situation here where the citizens can't walk down the street without having the sidewalk being blocked and screamed at." 

"The city's homeless services will show up from time to time, and they'll give her some help, get her off the street, then she just comes back again," he said, noting the problem has been going on for about seven to eight years. 

Cayler said police clearing the piles Wednesday were "doing the job we've been asking them to do for years and years and years." 

A City Hall spokeswoman said outreach teams have been trying to work with Gonzalez for years and would again be trying to engage her over the next few days to convince her to go into a shelter. 

"As experts in the field know, it often takes multiple points of outreach and engagement, sometimes years, to bring someone resistant into shelter," she said in a statement. 

Gonzalez said she has no intention of going indoors. 

Under current state law, a police officer or outreach worker can take people from the street only if they appear to be in imminent danger or display signs of mental illness. Many of the people sleeping on New York City streets have said they'd prefer to be outside than contend with the city's at-times overburdened, dirty and even dangerous shelter system. 

There are currently an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 people living on the streets of New York City, and an additional 58,000 people in the shelters. After downplaying the issue, Mayor de Blasio launched a sudden full-court press last fall on the homeless. 

Last December, he ordered teams to canvass every block of an 8-mile stretch in Manhattan each day to reach out to those living on the street. He's also announced a $2.6 billion investment to pay for the creation of 15,000 "supportive housing" units for the homeless, and ordered a review of the Department of Homeless Services agency when its commissioner resigned in December. 

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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