Activist concludes his N.Y.U. homeless campout on a high | East Villager & Lower East Sider

Activist concludes his N.Y.U. homeless campout on a high

John Penley led a large speak-out at N.Y.U. last Friday night, capping off his two-week campout on Washington Square South.  Photo by Lincoln Anderson
John Penley led a large speak-out at N.Y.U. last Friday night, capping off his two-week campout on Washington Square South. Photo by Lincoln Anderson

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | John Penley’s campout in front of New York University’s Bobst Library may have started slowly after he launched it on March 1, but by the end of two weeks he had definitely built momentum.

A crowd of about 50 gathered at the corner of LaGuardia Place and Washington Square South last Friday evening for a speak-out on topics ranging from gentrification to the Kimani Gray shooting in Brooklyn.

Penley’s main message during the campout was to call for N.Y.U. to build housing for the homeless since it has been such a major gentrifier of the Downtown area.

At one point during Friday night’s speak-out, N.Y.U. President John Sexton exited from Bobst and walked past the group. Penley shouted at him after Sexton had passed by that he “should be ashamed” that the university “kicked the seniors out” of the former Cabrini Residence on E. Fifth St. so that it could be an N.Y.U. dorm. (An N.Y.U. spokesperson later said that the school did look at the building two years ago, but that it didn’t meet the university’s needs.) The protesters also chanted “No con-fi-dence!” at Sexton, though by that time he was about a half a block away.

About a dozen people camped out on the sidewalk in sleeping bags with Penley last Friday night. Some were Occupy Wall Street veterans, and Penley called it “an Occupy Wall Street reunion.”

Paul Funkhouser, an N.Y.U. student and Occupy activist, said they might keep gathering there, though not on a full-time, but on a once-a-week basis.

“If we keep doing this, getting numbers of students, people start seeing the commonality,” he said.

During the days, Penley worked at archiving his photos, which he previously gave to N.Y.U.’s Tamiment Museum, inside Bobst.

The former East Village activist endured freezing weather and, one night during a snowfall suffered minor frostbite. When he just couldn’t face another night on the cold street, he crashed at C-Squat, on Avenue C, a couple of times.

“C-Squat were really the only ones that helped me — Shane and Bill Cashman and Jerry [The Peddler],” he said.

On Saturday, Penley ended the campout and headed to Pennsylvania where he had pledged to stay with a dying friend. The friend has a lawsuit against the government, and if he wins, Penley said he and others will use the funds to go into the medical marijuana business in Colorado, where it was recently legalized.