By Maria Rocha-Buschel
While the topic of scofflaw cyclists normally dominates meetings with local police officers, on Tuesday night, those in attendance at the most recent gathering of the 13th Precinct Community Council told officers homelessness has them concerned.
A Union Square resident noted that there have been homeless encampments in the park recently, despite him having raised the issue at the meeting last month. Executive Officer Ernesto Castro said that the precinct has been to the park to break up the encampment but the problem is recurring.
“We have gone over there and taken it down but they’re just coming back,” he said.
“It is a tough situation but one point of leverage we do have is that you can’t have a mattress on the street so we can keep going back there to break it up,” Deputy Inspector Steven Hellman, the precinct’s commanding officer, added. “It’s not illegal to have a sign or just to be on the street but mattresses are definitely not allowed.”
Hellman did acknowledge that homeless activity in the park did seem to be affecting crime, as there was an assault at the end of March after a dispute between a man and his girlfriend with a homeless man who was hanging out in the park. The victim had approached the homeless man on March 29 around 11 p.m. because the man had been making rude remarks to him and his girlfriend. A witness told police that the suspect then hit the victim, causing him to fall and suffer a concussion as well as a bone fracture on his temple.
Another resident also said that loitering has gotten particularly bad outside the Walgreens on First Avenue in Stuyvesant Town because there is now a bench outside the store where homeless men often sit while drinking out of paper bags.
“Call the (Neighborhood Coordination Officer),” advised Hellman, referring to the officer assigned to the area through the community policing program. “That’s what this program is for. There are a lot of quality of life issues in this area with Union Square Park, two of the biggest methadone clinics in the city and the 30th Street Men’s shelter and without you calling the NCO, they won’t know what issues to address.”
Hellman also attributed a recent decrease in crime for the precinct to the community policing program.
“The weather is getting warmer but we’ve been trending down (this month),” Hellman said. “It’s about sticking together and fighting crime.”
Community Council President Frank Scala, who has missed the last two monthly meetings after he had a heart attack, was back at the meeting on Tuesday. He told attendees that he had been recovering for the last two months but is feeling much better, and he thanked the community council for a card offering well wishes.