Hidden in plain sight between a children’s playground and the stream of traffic into Brooklyn, a homeless encampment sits hard by the Manhattan Bridge.
Three makeshift “bedrooms” allow residents to hunker down for the night under an open sky, just a few feet from one another. There’s no sink or soap to follow the city’s wash-your-hands admonition and no sign of hand sanitizer. A pale blue surgical mask lies in the dirt.
A table in one of the bedrooms includes a paperback copy of “Birth of Tragedy,” by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.
In the time of coronavirus, this encampment lies outside the reach of the frantic effort to contain an illness that had killed more than 770 New York City residents as of Sunday afternoon. And as the virus spreads, it’s touching the ranks of New Yorkers who live outdoors, bedding down on sidewalks and subways.
Last week, only one unsheltered person had tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, according to city officials. By Saturday, there were four — three of whom remain hospitalized.
As for the rest of the estimated 3,200 New Yorkers living on the streets and in subways, keeping tabs on where they are or on who is infected is proving a steep challenge.
The city has stopped tracking down close contacts of those who have COVID-19 as the number of those infected skyrockets, so there is no account of who these four unsheltered individuals had contact with in the days before they tested positive.
Meanwhile, police are breaking up encampments around the boroughs, THE CITY has learned.
“This population is finding it remarkably difficult to do the things they’re being told to do,” said Josh Dean of HumanNYC, a group that presses to house the unsheltered homeless. “The general guidance is to stay at home and wash your hands and unsheltered homeless people can’t do that.”