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Some unhoused people prefer the streets to shelters, even with a murderer at large

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Authorities are searching for a gunman who they say targeted unhoused individuals in Washington, D.C., and in New York City. Two victims were killed in a string of five attacks. Tonight, the mayors of both cities asked for further help from the public in identifying the suspect, and they continue to implore people to head indoors. But as Gwynne Hogan of member station WNYC reports, some people on the streets in New York are still reluctant to head into city shelters.

GWYNNE HOGAN, BYLINE: Sixty-seven-year-old Joseph Daniels is selling MetroCards at Penn Station, trying to make enough for his next meal.

JOSEPH DANIELS: I'm hustling right now, trying to get something to eat.

HOGAN: He says he's been living on the streets for more than four years. He's heard about the killings in D.C. and New York, but he says the streets are always dangerous for the unhoused.

DANIELS: It's more than one guy harassing homeless people.

HOGAN: He spent time in a city shelter once and has no plans of going back.

(SOUNDBITE OF CITY AMBIENCE)

HOGAN: On the street nearby Penn Station, 55-year-old Cynthia Maria Glock is sitting in a wooden chair on the sidewalk. She's heard about the killings, too.

CYNTHIA MARIA GLOCK: It's scary out here. I've been here. I've been assaulted so many times. It's really - it's scary for women.

HOGAN: Glock says she's been living on the streets since 2015, but she'd rather be here than in a city shelter, even with a murderer on the loose.

GLOCK: Well, you got people coming out of Rikers. You got people with major, major anger issues. They're not safe.

HOGAN: Around the corner, 55-year-old Ron Davidson is rattling a cup of change outside a McDonald's. He says he became homeless two years ago when he lost his job at HelloFresh at the start of the pandemic.

RON DAVIDSON: You know, why would you do that? - you know what I mean? - kill a sleeping person? So...

HOGAN: At first, he was on the streets. Then he entered the city's shelter system five months ago. He feels better there than outside now, but he still doesn't think the mayor's request will convince many to come indoors.

DAVIDSON: No. No. Some - maybe some will, but like I say, a majority of people just, you know, they're lost out here.

HOGAN: Manny is sitting on a corner nearby, wrapped in blankets, and he didn't want to give his last name out of fear for his safety. He says shelters aren't a solution. He's looking for something more permanent. He's on a waiting list for a supportive housing apartment, but they're few and far between.

MANNY: I mean, how much money is allocated to homeless services? Instead of homeless services, how about you build some homes? That's what we need.

HOGAN: Authorities are still searching for the man who they think shot five people in New York City and D.C.

For NPR News, I'm Gwynne Hogan in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPIRO'S "YELLOW NOISE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.