A group of Bowery locals and activists are once again voicing concern about a homeless shelter that has long been linked to various crimes in the East Village.
At Community Board 3’s offices last night, several residents — for the second time since August — accused the East Third Street shelter’s clients of “quality of life” offenses ranging from loitering to public urination, defecation and smoking K2 outdoors.
The shelter for men, run by Project Renewal, also took heat for contributing to the rat population on the block between Bowery and Second Avenue.
“I’ve seen the homeless guys come out with their food and they drop the garbage on the floor and they keep on walking,” said Marilia Gonzalez, herself a former homeless woman who lives across from the shelter. “They’ve got their girlfriends and their food and they’re out early in the morning — 6 and 7 a.m.”
Gonzalez’s comment came in response to remarks by Caroline Bragdon, a research scientist from the New York City’s Health Department who had announced that a “brand new garbage compactor” to relieve the rat problem had been installed inside the shelter’s yard. She had noted that the key to rat abatement was “removal of the [rodents’] food source.”
“It’s been a problem for a number of years,” she said.
Bragdon, however, did not attribute the rat population on East Third Street to homeless people, noting there had been “illegal dumping” on the block and other problems involving construction sites and scaffolding. There was also speculation after the meeting that rats were coming from a cemetery near the East Third Street shelter for recovering substance users.
Susan Stetzer, district manager of CB 3, who facilitated the meeting, described the Department of Health’s involvement on block as a “new initiative” with Project Renewal. In addition to the East Third Street shelter, which has 175 beds and two detox units, the non-profit also runs a shelter on 333 Bowery, just a few blocks up from the overburdened Bowery Mission, called Kenton Hall. It contains 100 beds for men on methadone.“Because we’re so visible, we just attract blame for everything bad in the neighborhood,” said Emily Brown, a staff member at Project Renewal, during a conversation with B+B this morning. She noted that staff wearing red t-shirts are now patrolling the area (some reportedly with bullhorns) from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. She added that “the community” has begun a petition to bring in peace officers from the City’s Department of Homeless Services to beef up security at the shelters and curb loitering, particularly at the adjacent Bowery Hotel.
Lt. Patrick Ferguson, of the Ninth Precinct, made it plain to some 30 attendees at the meeting that he was constantly getting calls of complaint about the shelters and requests for help. But he noted there are limits to what cops can do. “Panhandling is not illegal,” he said. “But if [homeless people] follow you on the street or harass you, I can do something about it.Ferguson said there had been arrests for robbery and assault but that “overall things are better.” The use of K-2, however, remains an “epidemic” at the shelter. “It’s bad chemicals — much worse than marijuana,” he said of the synthetic cannabis that can be easily purchased at bodegas. Users told Ferguson they preferred it because it’s “cheaper than marijuana and had a longer high,” he said.
“I talk to these guys in the shelter,” he said of the East Third Street facility. “It’s a nice mix. Some of them are criminals and others are down on their luck.”
Lynn Lewis, executive director of Picture the Homeless, an organizing group in the Bronx, told the meeting that there are over 57,000 people in city shelters– “twice more than ten years [ago].”
“Homeless aren’t animals,” she said, noting they’re “not breaking the law” when they hang out.