NYC tent man Abdur-Rashiyd “JK” Rivera taps utility pole for heat as homelessness surges


He might be penniless, but he’s got the power.

The city has apparently turned a blind eye to a homeless man siphoning electricity from an East Village light pole for months to his new abode: a tent in Tompkins Square Park.

Abdur-Rashiyd “JK” Rivera, 54, has lived the past three chilly winter months in shocking conditions, staking his home down in the trash-strewn south side of the popular park.

But he’s cozy enough, with a personal heater and lights by which to read his books — while city workers do little to stop him, all thanks to an East Seventh Street electrical pole and about 75 feet of orange extension cords.

The tent man said he’s been approached some days by as many as four different city agencies, including the Department of Homeless Services, which boasts an annual budget of $2.1 billion.

“The only thing the homeless services do, they come here, they ask if you’re alright and you say ‘Yes’ and they say, ‘Do you want to go to a shelter?’ I say ‘no’ and they leave,” Rivera said. The city cannot legally force people into shelters.

Apparently just one city worker gave him a hard time about his juice: repeatedly yanking the power cord out of the pole. So Rivera cut a deal with her instead.

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“I had a problem with the lady from the Department of Parks and Recreation,” Rivera said. “People could trip and everything and I understood that. She used to always at like 5:30, 6 in the morning unplug it and throw the cord over here.

Abdur-Rashiyd “JK” Rivera, who’s been living inside a tent in Tompkins Square Park, has kept himself warm this winter by hogging electricity from a light pole.
Abdur-Rashiyd “JK” Rivera has dismissed pleas from city officials to move into homeless shelters.
Helayne Seidman

“I said ‘Ma’am, I could be sleeping when you do that and I not realizing it could die because I’m asleep and freeze to death.’”

The worker backed off when he covered up his electrical lifeline, anchoring it to the sidewalk with a plastic cable cover and duct tape. He said he’s often forced to take down his tent to appease various city officials, but typically has the shelter back up within a day or two.

His electrified nylon nest is covered in a blue tarp with walls insulated by cardboard, which he also uses as a makeshift front patio, which he sweeps with a broom he keeps nearby. The crowded shelter contains clothes, food and drink containers, a copy of the Koran amid a small stack of books, and a prayer mat.

Abdur-Rashiyd “JK” Rivera, who’s been living inside a tent in Tompkins Square Park, has kept himself warm this winter by hogging electricity from a light pole.
Abdur-Rashiyd “JK” Rivera has his vital electric wire connecting the light pole covered in duct tape.
Helayne Seidman

The heater donated by an anonymous neighbor “made me really, really, really happy,” Rivera said.

Former Comptroller Scott Stringer reported in March that New York spent $3.5 billion on homelessness in 2020 — a shocking $43,750 per person in a city with an estimated 80,000 homeless people. Yet the city’s vagrancy crisis festers.

“Whatever billions of dollars they’re spending that’s allotted for the homeless cause or whatever the case may be, I don’t see it,” Rivera said.

Abdur-Rashiyd “JK” Rivera, who’s been living inside a tent in Tompkins Square Park, has kept himself warm this winter by hogging electricity from a light pole.
Abdur-Rashiyd “JK” Rivera prefers living in his tent at Tompkins Square Park than dealing with homeless shelters.
Helayne Seidman

Rivera, who claims to have served time in state prison, said his current living conditions are better than the city’s horrific homeless shelters.

“I’ve been in Attica, Sing Sing, Elmira,” he said. “The shelter system is worse than Attica. That right there should tell you something.”

The number of single adults without a home has surged by 92% over the past 10 years, according to the Coalition for the Homeless, while homelessness has reached its highest levels since the Great Depression.

Poaching power from a public utility pole “is nothing new for people from the neighborhood,” said Rivera, a lifelong East Village resident. The street-party “jams” of his youth were amplified by DJs plugging into power poles, while the same stanchion heating his home is used by neighbors today to charge cell phones and e-bikes.

“They tell me, ‘Yo, JK, I’m going to unplug you for a few minutes.’”



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