NEW YORK --New York City officials have vowed to do more for the homeless, but now, they are struggling to figure out how to deal with a homeless woman in possession of a block-long caravan of shopping carts.
Sonia Gonzalez is also a hoarder, with nearly two dozen carts filled with everything from bottles to an air conditioner, lined up along 10th Avenue in Hell's Kitchen.
Even though she's much smaller in stature than the large, overstuffed carts she tries to push and pull, Gonzalez is still strong enough to lead a seemingly rough life on the streets.
"I got to do it," she said. "I got a place (to sleep), but I cannot go."
She chooses to make her home on the streets, where she's cobbled together the carts and a dolly and filled them to the brim with recyclables, cardboard and other items she finds tossed on the streets. She collects them to sell to crews she says come from Brooklyn.
"Oh I make good money, good money," she said. "I collect. I buy. We used to have the recycling place. We lost it because they built a building."
Gonzalez is known to business owners in the area.
"I don't know if she gets a check, I don't know how she survives," said Pat Hughes, who owns a local restaurant. "Some people give her money. Sometimes she actually pays money to other homeless people to help her move the stuff around."
Gonzalez spends the better part of each day moving her carts, sometimes dangerously close to traffic speeding up 10th Avenue.
"I move other places, then I start again," she said. "New York is very dangerous in everything."
Nearby residents say they have seen her attempting to move all the carts.
"She goes from 39th up to here," area resident Shane Salanitri said. "It takes her about an hour to go 20 feet. It's crazy."
"You've got do what you got to do to survive," neighbor Sheldon Todman added.
Gonzalez said she makes her bed each night somewhere in the carts.
New York City's Department of Homeless Services released the following statement in response to this story:
"Because this person's possessions are obstructing the sidewalk and traffic, homeless outreach teams and NYPD will again approach the client to attempt to convince her to accept shelter in an available Safe Haven location. The NYPD personnel will go through her possessions with her and voucher any possessions of hers of value. If this individual refuses a Safe Haven location, the homeless outreach teams will continue to engage her over the next few days to convince her to come into shelter.
"Outreach teams have been working to build trust with this client and help bring her to shelter for years. During the past week, an HOME-STAT outreach team has been trying to convince her to come into shelter and receive services. As experts in the field know, it often takes multiple points of outreach and engagement, sometimes years, to bring someone resistant into shelter."