By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Earlier this year, representatives from the Administration for Children’s Services facility on First Avenue told the Kips Bay community that the agency is working to do more to keep the young people in its care motivated to stay onsite (and incidentally, out of trouble) through new and expanded programming.
However, as of this week, area residents said teenagers staying at the center have continued to wander the neighborhood at night, causing trouble.
Neighbors voiced their concerns on Tuesday night at the most recent meeting held by the 13th Precinct’s Neighborhood Coordinating Officer program for the precinct’s Sector D — the area that covers Kips Bay and Peter Cooper Village.
Eddie Ocasid, the building superintendent for 485 First Avenue, said that teens staying at the ACS building appear unsupervised after 9 p.m. and are often disruptive to residents until 4 in the morning on some nights.
“There’s no supervision there,” Ocasid said. “They say that once the kids leave (the building), it belongs to NYPD but there’s no oversight. The other day a fight broke out in front of my building and there’s no NYPD.”
Ocasid also noted that homeless people loitering has been a problem on his block, with some people trying to get into his building and others sleeping inside the nearby Citi Bank location, and one incident where teens who appeared to be from the ACS building assaulting a homeless person nearby.
Because residents have noticed some of the teens out so late at night, attendees at the meeting asked if it would be possible to implement a curfew to prevent the ACS residents from being outside in the neighborhood during the late night hours, but ACS Deputy Commissioner Winette Saunders said that it is against state regulations to lock the residents inside the facility.
“It’s complicated in terms of the regulations so we’re working on different ways to incentivize them to stay indoors,” she said.
The center is an unlocked facility and its usually short-term residents are there because of emergency circumstances. Many are placed into foster care.
Saunders also talked about some of the initiatives that the agency is working on to mitigate concerns presented by residents at the meeting.
“We work very closely with the NYPD not only on arrests but also on programming to reduce idle time because sometimes when kids don’t have anything to do, they’re going to do other things that are not suitable,” Saunders said. “We’re working a lot on idleness reduction and bringing in programming for our young people.”
East 26th Street resident Marco Villegas asked if there was any kind of job training available for some of the older teens and Saunders said that ACS is actually working on a pilot program for kids at the center who are 18 and older to get certifications that will allow them to take construction jobs. The agency is working on piloting the program before June.
Villegas also asked if there was anything that could be done about Bellevue South Park, noting that he is raising five children and doesn’t feel comfortable bringing his kids there because of the adults loitering inside the park. He added that if they didn’t, the park would also be a good space for kids living in the ACS facility to hang out.
“There are all types of shenanigans that have been going on there forever and if we could make improvements to the park, maybe these kids would have somewhere to be kids,” he said.
In response, Katie Loeb, Councilmember Carlina Rivera’s budget director, mentioned the Parks Department’s plan to renovate Bellevue South, suggesting the changes should help the park become more welcoming.
“This was seen in the renovations at Tompkins Square Park and the hope is that if you redo the park, it changes people’s behavior,” Loeb said.
Police officer Jaja Goulbourne, an NCO who focuses on public housing in the precinct, also said at the meeting that while teens who live at the ACS facility often wander through the housing complexes in the neighborhood, the police can’t just “grab and arrest” them if it seems like they might be trespassing.
Goulbourne said that officers need to ask the teens three questions before they can detain them, including if they live in the building, if they have business in the building or if they have friends who live in the building, and he noted that the last question usually allows the teen to leave without being arrested.
“A lot of ACS kids have friends in these buildings and at that point, there isn’t anything I can do,” he said.