A homeless man at an encampment on the Upper West Side

NEWS: NYC homeless camp persists with no clear end in sight

The city has allowed a notorious Upper West Side vagrant and his homeless comrades to virtually annex a half-block stretch of Columbus Ave — with no immediate end in sight to the grubby land grab.

Ethan “Freckles” Schneider, a 31-year-old Missouri native, and others continue to occupy an encampment on West 75th and 76th Streets, despite ongoing construction and renovation work inside a building that will soon house a new Mermaid Inn seafood restaurant.

“What does it need to come to — a violent crime — before they take [them] off the streets?” wondered Sean Flynn, 44, who says he has seen as many as six people sleeping al fresco at the same time.

For years, Schneider has opted to live on the street, following minimal and “zero waste” philosophies, and reducing his “use of the US dollar.”

“If you live in a building, especially in a city like New York, you’ve got to make a lot of compromises in your lifestyle to accommodate all the other fellow residents,” he said.

“I don’t exactly like doing that.”

The encampment occupies a half-block stretch between West 75th and West 76th Streets.
J.C. Rice

The ever-growing encampment includes Schneider’s bicycle, decorated with cardboard signs reading “#Zero Exhaust” and “Raw Vegan Food Please,” along with Amazon delivery bags, a mattress and pillows, and empty Gatorade bottles filled with gum and cigarette butts that the group sweeps off the street.

Residents say the encampment has drawn an increasingly rough crowd, including one heroin addict who shouts obscenities at passersby — and even hurled a lighter at someone last weekend. 

“If I didn’t have kids I wouldn’t think much more about it, but I do and I don’t want them seeing this,” said Prudence, 36, who lives with her three young sons on West 76th Street — home to one of the neighborhood’s most expensive brownstones, which sold for $27.5 million last year.

Ethan "Freckles" Schneider
Ethan “Freckles” Schneider has chosen to live on the streets on the Upper West Side for years.
J.C. Rice

Mark Carrillo, an employee at Golden Key Locksmith, said residents and the city have made myriad attempts to move the homeless from their current location to little avail. 

“The police and sanitation come every week … but nothing happens,” Carrillo, 44, said.

“These guys don’t want to go anywhere.” 

Ethan Schneider posing in front of his bike and some of his possessions on Columbus Avenue
Schneider says the he follows a “zero waste” lifestyle.
J.C. Rice

Max Vandervliet, district manager for Community Board 7, said he hopes the Columbus Avenue campers eventually move into one of the neighborhood’s many shelters, but Schneider is an impossible case.

“If someone refuses help, there’s not too much we can do,” Vandervliet said, adding that Mayor Eric Adams has directed police and emergency service workers to involuntarily commit mentally ill people living on the street, but NYPD has been resistant to enforcing the policy.

A NYPD spokesperson said that the department has been working together with Adams since he announced the directive in November.

Close up of empty Gatorade bottles filled with cigarette butts
Schneider and other members of the encampment sweeps streets and pick up gum and cigarette butts.
J.C. Rice

“The NYPD has been in lock step with the Mayor on this mental health initiative from the outset,” the spokesperson said, adding that the department “conducts removals when appropriate.”

A City Hall rep declined to share how many times the city’s encampment task force has cleared the Columbus Avenue site.

Danny Abrams, co-owner of the Mermaid Inn chain — who lives in Lincoln Square — said he doesn’t mind Schneider and his cohorts crashing in front of the storefront for now.

Distant view of the encampment, which is situated next to the New American restaurant Asset
Locals say the encampment has been frequently visited by city agencies and departments, including sanitation and police.
J.C. Rice

“I’m not looking to move them until the restaurant opens in November,” said Abrams.

Schneider claimed he’ll leave the spot once the restaurant opens.

“I like the Upper West Side, but if there isn’t space for me, I’ll go wherever I’m most welcome,” he said. 

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