Coordinated Effort Proving Effective at Sidelining Sidewalk Shed’s Shielding of Drug Use, Sales

Garbage blocks the sidewalk on W. 25th St., while sheets hung from the sidewalk shed hide drug use. | Photo by Erin Pursell

The pandemic-demanded reimagining of Manhattan as something less than a 24/7 source of retail, restaurant, and nightlife opportunities made it seem like the city that never sleeps had gone into hibernation. Tourists left in droves and have yet to return in comparable numbers; residents sheltered in place shortly after sundown; and unhoused individuals accustomed to spending their dusk to dawn in the subway’s stations and cars were forced aboveground during the system’s nightly closures. Some of that population found its way to, and underneath, the city’s plentiful sidewalk sheds (aka scaffolding), which the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB) requires when a property undergoes repairs. (a variety of factors, including work stoppage and outright neglect, can keep that shedding up for years). The unsightly grid created by its scaffolding, roofing, and mesh—meant to protect passersby from falling debris—has played host to homeless encampments and open-air drug use and sales, long before the pandemic pushed the situation to unprecedented heights.

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