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Home Food Pandemic Puts New York City Restaurants at Front of Homeless Crisis

Pandemic Puts New York City Restaurants at Front of Homeless Crisis

The disputes became so severe that Ms. Serrano decided to move the restaurant to a larger space down the block, where there have been fewer troubles. “It was a blessing in disguise for us, really,” she said. “We were honestly busting at the seams.”

Nadine Strossen, a professor at the New York Law School, said a security guard can’t shoo someone panhandling away from outdoor diners because sidewalks and streets are considered a forum where people can exercise their First Amendment rights to free speech. The exception is when that speech crosses a line into harassment, coercion or intimidation; the law doesn’t allow a security guard to act against speech that is merely controversial or upsetting.

Karim Walker, 40, who was homeless since 2016 and is now living in his own apartment, said people can be ignorant about the law, and how their attempts at enforcement can affect people. “No matter what your stage in life is, you’re still a human being, and you still deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.”

Steven Conti, 33, who arrived in New York City in December, is currently homeless and sleeps in a Manhattan park. He thinks the expansion of outdoor dining has had a positive effect. “Socializing outdoors — it’s more like a party,” he said. “I don’t complain about it. I kind of prefer it.”

The six-month-old outdoor dining structure at Oaxaca Taqueria, in Murray Hill, is a popular lunch spot. But after the restaurant closes in the evening, it sometimes becomes an area for people to sit, drink and smoke.

Angie Cuervo, a manager, said trash and even human feces have been left behind. “I’m the one who opens the next day, and I find all the trash and I have to clean it up because, of course, I’m not going to let my clients come and see that,” she said.

At Tribeca’s Kitchen, employees are instructed to give food to anyone in need. The owner, Andreas Koutsoudakis Jr., recalled a day this summer when a man went table to table asking for help. Mr. Koutsoudakis said he put his hand on the man’s shoulder and offered him something to eat.


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