Manhattanites don’t shock easily. They’re well aware that big-city life is often punctuated with trauma and peril and pain.
But few horrors lingering in the collective consciousness can compare to the events this weekend on a Chinatown sidewalk.
As they slept on makeshift cardboard bedding, four homeless men, one aged 83, were bludgeoned to death and a fifth was critically injured.
The 24-year-old killer, also homeless, had bashed in their skulls with a rusty, 15-pound, three-foot-long metal bar, police said.
When he was nabbed a few blocks away, the murder weapon, caked in fresh blood, covered with human hair, was still slung over his shoulder.
Randy Rodriguez Santos – habitué of shelters, abandoned buildings and jail cells, drug addict feared by his own mother, mentally unhinged ex-con with at least 14 prior arrests, mostly for violent crimes – identified himself as the man in a surveillance video which captured the attacks.
Overnight, the spiraling increase in homelessness, the rising presence of the mentally ill on city streets and the vexing quality-of-life problems they both pose had been thrust back into the public spotlight.
The harrowing quadruple murders also brought Mayor Bill de Blasio the unwelcome reminder that, fairly or unfairly, his progressive mantra and embrace of affordability as a means to reverse income inequality and erase the “tale of two cities” had not, apparently, borne much fruit.
“His policy on homelessness and housing is fundamentally wrong,” said city Comptroller Scott Stringer at a Chatham Square vigil to honor the victims. “We’re building ‘affordable housing’ that is simply unaffordable to our most vulnerable when we need policies to build housing that can actually move people from homelessness into homes.”
City Council members from downtown districts piled on: “We have failed as a city if we cannot build deeply affordable housing to get our homeless off the streets,” said Carlina Rivera, who represents portions of the Bowery. Added Margaret Chin, who represents Chinatown, “The response to the magnitude of this emergency has been insufficient.”
Is it true? Consider the data provided by the Coalition for the Homeless, the city’s Dept. of Homeless Services and the NYPD.
* Municipal Shelter Population: When de Blasio took office in Jan. 2014, the homeless census was 53,615. It has since skyrocketed to 61,674, a leap of 15 percent, according to the Coalition.
* Single Men in Shelters: While the number of sheltered families shot up 16 percent, the most dramatic increase has come in the tally of single men, which stood at 8,470 the day the mayor was sworn in. As of August, that population had hit 13,343, up a stunning 58 percent.
* New Yorkers Sleeping on the Streets: In the winter of 2014, the figure was 3,357, according to DHS’s annual homeless outreach count during the coldest time of the year. Five years later, the census edged up seven percent to peak at 3,588.
“Mr. Mayor, please, for the love of God, build housing for homeless New Yorkers,” said Giselle Routhier, the policy director at the Coalition for the Homeless.
* 911 Calls About "Emotionally Disturbed Persons:" Known in police lingo as “EDPs,” individuals in mental health crisis generated 143,000 emergency calls in 2014, soaring 26 percent to 179,569 by the end of 2018, according to the NYPD.
* EDPs In the Midtown South Precinct: The area that takes in Times Square and Penn Station generated 4,310 calls to 911 last year, or roughly 12 calls a day, literally doubling from five years ago.
“Despite the increased prevalence of these calls, the city has yet to develop a comprehensive response strategy for people experiencing mental health crises,” said Public Advocate Jumaane Williams in a report released on Oct. 2, just three days before the Chinatown massacre.
“The city’s current approach to addressing the mental health crisis is failing,” he concluded.
Extra Resources to Chinatown
For his part, de Blasio put out an Oct. 7 release, prominently quoting his wife, First Lady Chirlane McCray, saying he’s deploying extra resources to Chinatown, boosting existing outreach efforts and providing additional social services, security measures and mental health teams.
“What happened over the weekend shakes the conscience of who we are as New Yorkers,” the mayor said.
But McCray, who unveiled her ThriveNYC mental health initiative in 2015, has herself been skewered by critics for neglecting to meet the needs of the severely mentally ill – and failing to report detailed results or adequately account for the $850 million her pet project has spent over the past four years.
“ThriveNYC has shined a spotlight on the challenges of depression and other mental health issues afflicting New Yorkers and expanded the resources available to them,” said City Council Member Mark Levine, the chair of the Health Committee.
“But folks who wind up on the streets homeless are struggling with far more serious psychiatric issues – including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder – than what you can address by having a hotline to call when you’re feeling anxious and depressed.”