Nomads of New York: Formerly homeless man helps unhoused Lower East Side individuals avoid losing everything in street sweeps

A formerly homeless man now spends his free time helping other unhoused individuals in the Lower East Side save their meager belongings from city agencies looking to put them on the trash pile.

Donald Johnson, who spent about six months living on the streets of the Bowery, has worked with homeless people impacted by the numerous sweeps of sidewalk encampments by a coalition of agencies including the NYPD, the Sanitation Department, and the Departments of Social Services and Homeless Services.

When the sweeps began in 2022 at Mayor Eric Adams’ direction, the intent was to connect encampment residents to vital services to rebuild their lives, while getting the blighted camps off the streets. But according to Johnson, the sweeps serve as constant traumatic shadow that hangs over all who are experiencing street homelessness due to the threat of not only removal, but also having their belongings forcibly taken.