By Sabina Mollot
In the streets surrounding the men’s shelter at Bellevue, neighbors in recent months have been snapping photos of homeless men when they spot anything that seems alarming, whether it’s public lewdness or aggressive behavior. The photos often get sent to local police and homeless officials and sometimes on the neighborhood Facebook page 33rd and Third (And Beyond).
Now, those residents should have any easier time chronicling their complaints, thanks to an app created by a Murray Hill data engineer and programmer. The free app allows users to post their photos onto a map, which then lets other users know, through pins, the locations where particular homeless people are camping out in real time. It also offers a variety of hashtags for users to choose from depending on the situation, such as #aggressivebegging or #needsmedicalattention. So far, midtown has been the most heavily tagged area.
The app’s creator, David Fox, said he was inspired to do something based on the uptick in homeless people he’s noticed in Murray Hill and Kips Bay.
“It’s definitely gotten worse since last year and looking at it over a two-year time frame,” he said.
Fox recalled one recent frightening incident when he was at a Murray Hill Subway sandwich shop and a vagrant came in and demanded food. When the person at the cash register wouldn’t give him any, the homeless man started berating and threatening the worker. He eventually left, possibly upon noticing that Fox was calling police, Fox recalled. Then there are the other less serious, but annoying incidents he’s witnessed, such as men peeing in front of his building and going through garbage that made Fox want to find a convenient way to keep track of the activity.
The app, NYC Map the Homeless, was released last week and has since been downloaded between 250 and 300 times, Fox said. He’s also already at work on version 2.0, which will also have a map of recent incidents to make it useful for police, should they choose to make use of it.
As for regular citizens such as himself, Fox advises “safety first” if considering snapping a photo of someone engaging in disturbing or aggressive behavior.
“If you feel uncomfortable, then you absolutely shouldn’t do it,” he said. “You have to do it at your discretion. You have to be careful, and I would say keep your distance.”